If bodybuilders and others are turning to it as a natural supplement and superfood, is it time to start regulating the sale of breast milk?
“Are you actually going to drink that?” I asked as I sat in my north London flat watching my friend dangle a plastic zipper bag of human breast milk in front of me.
My friend was enthusiastic about the prospect of drinking the milk, as he explained: “[The breast milk supplier] has now started bringing milk to my work. It helps me sleep. I’m just experimenting on myself the way I have always done.”
Then he did it. He downed a pint of human breast milk in one.
The breast milk boom
Only The Breast (OTB), dubbed the “Craigslist of breastmilk”, is the site my friend purchased his milk from. Set up in 2009 by couple Glenn and Chelly Snow, it bills itself as a community facilitating the market exchange of breast milk between willing participants. Since its launch the business has received considerable traction and has expanded from the US into Europe.
OTB was primarily created to enable mothers to sell excess breast milk affordably to other mothers who are unable to breastfeed. Buying milk from long-established milk banks in the US is costly and OTB linked mothers with excess milk with those in need of it.
However, it seems that altruism isn’t the only motivation of sellers on OTB. In the US some mothers claim to make $20,000 (£13,000) a year from the sale of their breast milk. At the time of writing, selling listings reveal no mothers in the UK are willing to donate their milk for free to other mothers, but 31 are willing to sell their milk to men.
Breast milk, it turns out, has something of a reputation as a superfood within bodybuilding circles for building muscle and maintaining strength. It contains metabolic fuels and the raw materials needed to aid tissue growth and development, such as fatty acids, amino acids and minerals.
In a world rife with supplements, some consider breast milk just another if not more natural way to build muscle. As my friend said: “I don’t believe in supplements, but what is more natural than a mother’s breast milk?”
An opportunity for entrepreneurial mums
Breast milk is classified as a food by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and is not, in theory, illegal to buy or sell. However, there have been few attempts to sell it to the public and its sale banned on Ebay and Craigslist.
In 2011 the Covent Garden restaurant TheIce Creamists launched an ice-cream made with breastmilk called “Baby Gaga”. It was an instant hit, selling out before lunch on the day after going on sale. However, despite the milk being screened for diseases and pasteurised, Westminster council confiscated the ice-cream over health and safety concerns.