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Mothers selling breast milk . . . to men

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In California and New York, the sale of breast milk is illegal. (Courtesy of Human Milk Banking Association of North America)

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In certified milk banks, pasteurization kills viruses and bacteria. (Courtesy of Human Milk Banking Association of North America)

Anna Corral started selling her breast milk because she needed the extra cash. Since she produces twice the milk her baby needs, Corral says her freezer is filled with sterile bags of it.

By selling her milk for $1.50 an ounce online, the former nanny from Milwaukee made $500 in a month and a half.

“At first the whole idea sounded weird," said Corral, who has shipped both frozen and fresh milk to Nebraska, Texas and North Carolina. "But the more you think about it, the more normal it seems to be. Years ago, there were wet nurses.”

Mothers began selling breast milk online in 2005, and there are now hundreds of offers on the Web. In this unregulated market, a new clientele has appeared: men with a breast milk fetish. While some women refuse to sell the milk to men, others don’t mind.

Customers also include women who are unable to breastfeed their own babies and mothers who can’t afford the cost of milk sold at one of the country’s 11 certified human milk banks, which are usually located in hospitals and supervised by the Food and Drug Administration.

Lactation organizations discourage the unregulated sale of breast milk because viruses can be transmitted by human milk.

Corral’s best customers so far are a mother who is unable to breastfeed and a man who enjoys drinking breast milk. She doesn’t mind selling to men and chose the online nickname of “hot mama milk” to attract attention.

“I think it’s gross,” she said about men who drink her breast milk, “but if they enjoy it, fine.”

Steve, who lives in Kentucky and who declined to give his real name because he doesn’t want his wife to know about his fetish, has twice bought milk online. He pours the liquid into a glass and drinks it. “I just like the taste of it, and it turns me on,” he wrote in an e-mail message.

On radioball.net, the main Web site where women sell milk, some men ask for photos or promise large sums of money to mothers willing to nurse them.

Relationships in which women nurse adults are called “adult nursing.” An online forum was created last November for fans of the practice. It has 600 members, both men and women whose fantasy is to breastfeed or be breastfed.

But not everyone wants to satisfy this craving. Sarah Scott posted an ad online to sell her milk but got discouraged after getting eight e-mail messages from men in two days. The 28-year-old from Murfreesboro, Tenn., didn’t want to sell her milk to men, so she ended up sharing it with a woman who lives near her town.

Those looking to give their breast milk to babies in need say it can be hard to tell who will ultimately use the milk. Some men lie to obtain breast milk for themselves.

Amy Horton was willing to give away her milk free but said 10 men contacted her shortly after she posted her ad. One said he needed milk because he had a baby and his wife had just died. But when Horton asked for proof, the man declined to answer.

“The stories got kind of creative,” she said. “I just know that there are a lot of sick people out there.”

Buying breast milk online--especially to give to babies--can be dangerous. Mary Rose Tully, who works for the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, said two to three women a week call her to ask whether it is safe to buy milk online. She tells them not to do it. Human milk can transmit all sorts of diseases, including HIV.

“If these people depend on selling milk to make money, they might not be very careful,” Tully said.

Sellers often offer medical test results, but the screening can never be as thorough as in licensed milk banks, she added. In certified milk banks, donors are thoroughly screened and given lengthy questionnaires. Then the milk is pasteurized and repeatedly controlled for bacteriological growth. Tully said this level of control can't be matched by private sellers.

Kathy Lebbing, a lactation consultant and volunteer for La Leche League, agrees the risks are high.

“Who knows what they are selling?" she said. "It’s a chancy thing. You don’t even know that you are getting human milk.”

Right now, only California and New York have restrictions against selling breast milk. But other states are considering legislation to ban the practice.

However, buying from official milk banks can be expensive, at $3 an ounce, while prices online range from $1 to $2, according to a sampling of sites.

A woman buying breast milk from an accredited milk bank would need to pay about $93 a day to feed her baby, according to Tully, although some insurance plans will pay for the cost.

The high cost makes buying breast milk online attractive for a number of women.

Corral took several medical tests before selling her milk but said most of her customers didn’t ask for copies of the documents.

“I am surprised that they don’t ask,” Corral said. “I personally wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t feel safe enough.”

E-mail: ccl2119@columbia.edu