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Sunday, January 14, 2007There's been a lot of talk about milk sharing and wet nursing in the news lately. In fact, I've spoken to two reporters in the last two weeks about the subject. Most of the talk stems from Australian author Rhonda Shaw's latest article "The virtues of cross-nursing and the 'yuk factor'."
Ruth Hill of the Sunday Sun Times down in New Zealand covers the story today.
Sisters and close friends are more likely to spontaneously feed each other's children while babysitting but some women have more formal arrangements.
Two single working mothers Shaw interviewed had agreed to share childcare and cross-nurse each other's babies to accommodate work schedules.
"There was an economic driver in that case, because the women felt pressured to get off the DPB and back to work, which is actually quite sad."
In another case, a woman having cancer treatment begged a sister to feed her baby. Another mother agreed to feed her sister's newborn while the new mother was unconscious after a caesarean section delivery under general anaesthetic.
Many of the articles that I've read have mentioned the fact that there is now a company in Hollywood that hires out nanny/wet nurses. Why? Because there are some members of the Hollywood elite who have had breast surgery that has left them unable to lactate. These moms, realizing the importance of breast milk for their babies, are looking to find it elsewhere.
Now, I have no issue with casual sharing or cross-nursing under certain conditions. (More on this tomorrow) However, I have a great deal of concern over the idea of wet nursing and it stems from the concerns I've shared in the past about for-profit milk banking.
As soon as women begin wet nursing or "sharing" their milk for money, their own babies get put at risk.
For example, it's not uncommon in China for the very well to do to hire wet nurses from the countryside to come and suckle their infants. These moms are extremely well paid (often making more in a month than the average Chinese worker makes in a year) but they must leave their own infants behind to take these jobs. That leaves their babies to either be wet nursed by someone else in the village, or to be fed formula.
Here in the United States I've expressed similar concerns over for profit milk banks like Prolacta. Currently, Prolacta will pay hospitals and localized "independent" milk banks roughly $1 an ounce for the breast milk that they can convince women to "donate." They call it a "processing fee." (I call it a kick back.) Prolacta then processes the milk and sells it to hospitals for $35-$45 an ounce. The non-profit HMBANA milk banks sell processed milk for roughly the cost that it takes to cover the processing, or about $4 an ounce.
That means that if this all moves forward, we could see mothers being paid anywhere from $1 to $5 an ounce for their milk.
Now can you seriously tell me that some mothers out there won't sell ALL of their milk and simply use the money to buy formula before pocketing the rest of the profits? Associating profit with breast milk whether it comes straight from the tap or from a bottle gets VERY dangerous.
I'll write more about "casual sharing" and "casual cross-nursing" tomorrow. In the meantime, I'm curious to hear your thoughts.
Does the demand for wet nurses signal that we're making progress in the breastfeeding movement? Or, does it simply signify a problem in that some women see breast milk as a commodity that they can buy if they have enough money. Would you sell your breast milk? Would you buy breast milk from someone else? Where does the line get drawn for you?