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My Mother's A Milk Cow
by Wendy Stewart-Hamilton
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Okay, I’ll admit, my husband and I are both conversation voyeurs. What this means is that we always seem to be in the right or wrong place at the right time to hear some rather interesting conversations. These “eavesdrops” provide my husband and I a lot of things to talk about.

Take what hubby overheard while at a specialized SAP training in Dallas recently:

That some women actually sell their breast milk.

Pardon my shock and my audible “ewwhhh”. But is this really legal?

Well, according to hcnorton, a site visitor to the message boards at La Leche League only in California is there supposedly legislation on sharing body tissue or bodily fluids without going through a licensed facility.

(I guess that puts a damper on spontaneous sex with your spouse – whoops, can’t do it right now Hon, have to contact our licensed facility and work through them.)

Hcnorton further gives argument that there are no national laws governing the selling/sharing of breast milk.

Whether or not it is legal to do so, why would a person want to sell their breast milk?

1. There is more than enough to go around

Most moms who breast feed or have pumped breast milk to give to their child know firsthand just how much of this “liquid life” can flow from their body. Many a mom is capable of producing more than enough for her own child(ren) . If we waste not, other babies will need not.

2. For the money

Some mothers, like Colby’s Mom “hotkitt” on the same La Leche web site, would like nothing more than to earn some bucks pumping for others so that she and Colby could have a better life.

Whether or not a better life could be had by selling breast milk is perplex social enigma. But the fact remains, people can sell plasma for money – why not breast milk?

While some may be expressing for money, others are just doing it for the humanitarian chivalry.

So the third reason – and what I consider the best reason - why some one would sell breast milk is?

3. To Help others

Women who have had breast cancer and have had their mammary glands removed, simply cannot produce their own breast milk. There are also many infants that are born premature, have allergies, metabolic or biological issues that would prevent them from being able to tolerate anything but Mother’s Milk, and for any number of reasons (like Mom being positive for HIV or Hepatitis viruses) their own mother’s milk is not available.

Both of these groups would utilize the services of a Milk Bank.

So, what exactly is a Milk Bank? I’ll admit; that label swirls in my brain.

I am familiar with a food bank – that makes complete sense. A blood bank, a sperm bank, an egg bank – got it. But a milk bank? The images conjured up are worthy of a Tim Burton film and come complete with the idea of a back room full of lactating moms hooked up to industrial style milking systems like Bovines expressing themselves while up front a group of a cheerful Milk Bank representatives maintain the drive-thru window: taking and filling orders. I would like two 4 – oz bottles of the pasteurized mother’s milk. Oh, and do you have a fried apple pie to go with that?

I am fascinated and have tons of questions. Do they mix and match? Does all of the mothers’ milk get pooled into one area and then divided out into portions? Like blood and blood types, how do they know what milk to give to what baby or is all milk created equal for equal use opportunity?

Fortunately, for me and other moms who want to know – The Human Milk Banking Association of North America, established in 1985 has some answers for us.

According to the HMBANA, a milk bank is an organization whose purpose is to accept donations of surplus milk from healthy breastfeeding women, to pasteurize the milk and then dispense it by prescription to premature and sick babies, primarily those in the hospital. Or another words “It is all about the babies.”

Donor moms are carefully screened and milk is collected frozen.


(To screen Donors: blood tests and general health assessments are given and part of the screening relies heavily on each donor mom’s interpretation of whether she is “at risk” or not as well as a donor mom’s integrity, honesty and memory regarding drug and alcohol use and what countries they have visited and more.)


Once collected, donor milk from several donors is pooled or mixed together and put through a pasteurization process to kill viruses and bacteria and then is packaged into small bottles for easy dispensing and is refrozen. The HMBANA states that it doesn’t dispense any milk until after samples have been cultured (which means the milk is evaluated using a special nutrient medium to see if anything yucky – like harmful bacteria- grows.) and cleared as safe for consumption.

Once deemed safe for consumption, the HMBANA overnights the refrozen milk to hospitals and individuals at their private residences.

The donor milk mother receives no money or payment, and the milk recipient would pay a small “processing fee” to cover the costs of the HMBANA providing the collecting, pasteurizing and dispensing services.

Like many people I wondered how available was this service to moms? How easy would it be for a mom to acquire donated milk?

Donated milk can only be distributed by a doctor’s prescription or to a hospital. So, thankfully, it won’t be coming to a drive-thru near me or you any time soon.

According to Amy Vickers, the Clinical Coordinator at the North Texas Milk Bank in Fort Worth, Texas – the 7th of the 8 milk banks in United States/Canada, the cost to a recipient for donor milk is approximately $3.50 per ounce. The actual cost to produce Amy says is around $6 per ounce. The 60% cost difference is covered through grant money, financial donations and other contributions to help offset expenses.

As of today, some States are implementing WIC and Medicaid State subsidy and reimbursement for the providing of donor milk, and many insurance companies, but not all, participate in paying for donor milk if medically necessary.

Like organ donations, blood transfusions, sperm/egg donations, a milk bank provides a viable contribution to individuals who would need the service. Yet still many of us cannot fathom the idea of their being a “milk bank” or a mom being a “milk donor”. It seems to out of the normal, and almost weird.

However, the idea of “substitute” milk sources is as old as Moses, literally. After Pharaoh’s daughter found Moses in the bulrushes, she inquired of and obtained the services of a wetnurse, a woman hired to suckle (breastfeed) a child of someone else. Fortunately for Moses, his own mom and his own mother’s milk were available to help.

For moms and their babies today who don’t have the option of their own mother’s breast milk, there are milk banks.

If you would like more information on learning how you could support a Milk Bank, please go to the web site of The Human Milk Bank Association of North America at www.hmbana.com or contact Amy Vickers and her team at

Mothers' Milk Bank of North Texas
1300 W. Lancaster Suite 108
Ft. Worth, TX 76102
Phone (817) 810-0071


About the Author:
Wendy Stewart-Hamilton (wendy@inspiredmoms.com) is the site publisher and editor of Inspired Moms and InspiredMoms.com. She and her husband parent 3 children: 2 in Dallas and one, a freshman at Grace College in Indiana.

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