NBC26 Special Report: Breast Milk Sharing
Photo: Video by nbc26.com
GREENVILLE, Wis.--Buying breast milk on Craigslist, from a total stranger. It happens more often than you may think right here in northeast Wisconsin. It's called "milk sharing" and it's stirring up a lot of controversy.
So how does it work and what are the risks?
It's perfectly legal to buy and sell breast milk and for women who can't produce enough of their own milk it can be easier than going through a breast milk bank. But even women who do it admit it all comes down to trust.
Jessica Netzel's four month old Hope is drinking another mother's milk . No matter how hard she tried, Netzel couldn't pump enough milk to feed Hope. She has a condition called polysystic ovarian syndrome, but didn't want to turn to formula. So after trying everything she could to get her baby breast milk, she turned to the Internet.
"It is a huge decision to make and I didn't go into it lightly," said Netzel.
Netzel read this posting on Craiglist. That's how she came to buy milk from Greenville mom, Kim Doucette. Doucette has four kids and is nursing a one year old.
"I don't drink, I don't smoke. I think those are real important things to tell the person up front," said Doucette.
After going over Doucette's health history, Netzel agreed to buy her breast milk.
"I gave her a pretty decent supply. Probably over a month supply for 20 dollars," said Doucette.
Netzel says at first she didn't know if she could go through with it.
"I kept going back and forth like should I...Shouldn't I...And I just had to say you know what...I have to just trust she is being honest," said Netzel.
The moms say it's a "win-win". Doucette feels rewarded by helping another mother and child, and is compensated for the time and effort spent pumping the milk. Meanwhile Netzle's feeds her baby breast milk instead of formula.
But, it's not the only option. Moms can go through breast milk banks. The process is more costly and much more strict. Donor mothers like Darla Presteen are carefully screened.
"You fill out an application, you do some DNA swabs, and you have someone come to your house and actually draw blood," said Presteen.
Green Babybeez in De Pere is a 0drop off site for a milk bank in Indiana and the up and coming Mothers Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes, for Wisconsin and Illinois.
"They pasteurize it, then that milk remains there until NICUS or hospitals are needing it, then they ship it out to them" said co-owner of the store, Kimberly Gunn.
Lactation consultants say donor milk is safe. Without the screenings and pasteurization, there's no guarantee STD's, hepatitis or other diseases wouldn't be transmitted, especially if a mother doesn't realize she is a carrier.
Bellin Hospital's maternity ward leader says mother to mother milk sharing is ethically irresponsible.
"It would be the same as feeding a formula to a baby that wasn't considered safe. There are reasons for rules. To provide the best product we can to our children, our infants," said Bellin's Ramona Speier.
As for baby Hope, her mom says she's doing better then ever.
"It's just like I was feeding her my own breast milk or bottled formula," said Netzel.
And Netzle says she has no regrets in her leap of faith.
"It really came down to trusting. Really... One hundred percent," she said.
While hospitals do not condone mother to mother milk sharing, lactation consultants say breast milk is better than formula. They only recommend formula as a last resort.