Saturday, December 16, 2017
Health

Local moms join national trend of selling breast milk online

TAMPA

Her freezer holds plastic bags of liquid gold. • Not all new mothers can produce enough milk to feed their babies, but Brittney Coley, 26, makes twice as much as her 5-month-old, Jaxson, needs. • Last week, while Jaxson cooed contentedly at one breast, Coley pumped milk from the other into a bottle. She calls it breast juice and sells the extra for $2 an ounce. It boils down to capitalism. • Coley turned to a website where women sell their milk in May, after her air conditioner broke down for a second time and she scrambled to afford the fix. She signed in and posted her ad on onlythebreast.com.

Thick creamy milk Lakeland-Tampa

I have Fresh and Frozen milk available and would prefer to sell locally, but will ship to the right buyer and add shipping cost.

Despite experts warning buyers of the risks of contamination, the website with pictures of plump babies and smiling moms has nearly 2,000 posts for milk sales. Ads sit under categories: local, vegan, for preemies, and even "willing to sell to men." • Coley doesn't care who her customers are. "Who am I to judge?" she says. • She has heard of people using breast milk to build muscles or combat cancer and currently has two male customers. "People are comfortable putting GMOs into their bodies and their kids' bodies, and I'm giving people something healthy."

• • •

Coley's post is listed with three other Tampa ads. A 23-year-old Puerto Rican with four children is "almost vegan." A military wife with a baby girl says she produces an extra 200 ounces a week and offers same-day delivery to local babies. A 22-year-old with "tons of milk to spare" has 200 ounces in her freezer, available for local pickup.

It's all legal. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration doesn't regulate the sale of breast milk — considered a food — but warns against using milk bought through the Internet.

Chelly Snow started onlythebreast.com with her husband, Glenn, after seeing women online with excess milk and others seeking to buy. They decided to connect the two. Women have long served as wet nurses for babies who are not their own. Pumping and then selling over the Internet is just the newest phase, say some.

Snow instructs buyers how to pasteurize milk at home, encourages both parties to use PayPal, and warns sellers not give out personal information. The site allows people to communicate much like Craigslist without using personal email addresses, and it requires ads to be G-rated. Only the Breast doesn't screen donors or assume responsibility for the milk.

• • •

Not everyone is, well, latching on to the trend.

Breast milk sold over the Internet is "creating a very dangerous situation," said Maureen Groer, a professor in the College of Nursing at the University of South Florida.

"Buyers don't know the risks," said Groer, who has spent her career studying breast milk.

Mothers make a unique brand of breast milk for their babies, she said. There are hormones and chemicals that can induce sleep and encourage bonding. Milk made for preemies is totally different from milk made for full-term babies, she said.

"Colostrum (the first milk after birth) has anticancer chemicals, but to say it can cure cancer is a marketing ploy," she said. No clinical trial studies prove that.

She understands why people might think breast milk is best, but she says selling it on the Internet is totally unsafe.

Keeping a pump clean is critical, and hepatitis, HIV and other viruses can be transmitted through breast milk. The milk could also have traces of illegal or prescription drugs taken by the mother.

The only recommended use of human breast milk from a woman who is not the baby's mother is for preterm babies, Groer said. That milk is donated by women with excess who are screened. The milk is tested and pasteurized and sold to hospitals, which use it almost like a medicine.

Unfortunately, Groer said, milk banks don't have the capacity to make milk safe for everyone who wants it.

• • •

Coley heard about the market for breast milk from a moms group on Facebook when her first son, Liam, was 4 months old. Her first sale of 20 ounces earned $80.

"That really helped out," she said.

A few months later, she met Nick Payton, now 31, at a mall. They found they liked the same science fiction authors. He admired her devotion to Liam, now 2. On their first date, they went clothes shopping for Liam using money from a breast milk sale.

They married in December, and Jaxson was born in January.

Payton works as a cook at Lexington Oaks Golf Club. They have tried to figure out ways for her to work but can't find a job that would cover the cost of day care.

In May, after the air conditioner in their Zephyrhills home broke for a second time, they agreed she would sell her excess milk.

"We make enough to survive," she said, "but not to drop $300 on air conditioning."

She can pump 50 ounces extra a day, which could earn her at least $100. For small amounts, like for body builders, she said, the market is more like $5 an ounce. Some women view it as a business, but Coley usually has a bill in mind.

"Usually my goal is to make enough for the car payment or the electric bill," she said.

When buyers ask, she tells them about her diet. She eats fresh meat and vegetables — no junk food. No cow's milk. She gives them her records from the hospital, after Jaxson's birth, showing her negative results for sexually transmitted diseases. She tells them about her 10-pound baby.

Outside her house, organic tomatoes and peppers are ripening in a raised garden. Payton makes her breakfast every morning. When the babies cooperate, she makes him dinner.

After feeding Jaxson on a recent morning while also pumping, Payton took the bottle from Coley and held it up to read the line: 7 ounces. He gently swirled it to mix before pouring it into a plastic bag, sealing it and placing it in the freezer.

The couple sat on the floor with the boys on a blanket. Coley felt Jaxson's first tooth with her finger.

"Hey, you," she said to Jaxson. "Is your belly full?

He grabbed at his toes.

"Now I'm going to eat you," she said, eliciting giggles.

Coley knew she would breastfeed her children well before she had them. She's an earth mother who feeds on demand because "babies aren't born on a schedule." She and Payton dream of one day living on a small farm. She says breast milk is more natural for babies than cow's milk, and without it the human race would not have survived.

Her response to critics who say formula is fine is a series of questions.

"What did they give that cow?"

"Was it healthy?"

"What chemicals did they put in while processing?"

Elisabeth Parker can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3431.

 
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