The rise of Big Breast Milk: A boon for healthy babies or exploitative of low-income mothers?

I witnessed the power of breast milk — as a magic health elixir and apparent social lubricant — earlier this month when my friend, while playing with her young son, was approached by a stranger and asked if she was breast-feeding. It went something like this:

“Hey, this is a crazy question, but are you breastfeeding?”

“I am.”

“Can I have some of your breast milk? My son has an eye infection.”

“Sure. Grab me a clean shot glass.”

It was that simple. They exchanged pleasantries about their kids and parted ways. I was amazed that the whole thing went so smoothly, since strangers asking you to give them something from inside your body is, you know, kind of intense. “Breast milk is really good for eye stuff,” my friend explained, then turned her attention back to whatever it was we were talking about before.

But breast milk isn’t just being traded between moms at bars or through the breast milk forums and donation centers where this happens on a slightly larger scale, it’s becoming a lucrative business for biotech firms.

As the New York Times reported Friday, venture capitalists have poured more than $40 million into a company, Prolacta Bioscience, that buys breast milk and turns it into a high-protein formula for extremely premature babies. The nourishment doesn’t come cheap — the concentrated milk sells for thousands of dollars.

Read more