Breast milk has taken on a somewhat mythical quality in our society. All natural, abundant, and — for new moms who can produce it — free. “Breast milk is considered liquid gold,” Katie Hinde, a researcher at Arizona State University, said at a National Institutes of Health talk in 2016. Many would say that Hinde is right.
For infants, breast milk is a life force — one that not only nourishes them but also helps stave off infection and decrease the likelihood of allergies, asthma, and diabetes throughout their lives. But while the nutrients are made for babies, it’s unclear what the effects of consuming breast milk are for adults. In the gray area that remains, several demographics have jumped on the idea that breast milk is a magical elixir.
There is yet to be scientific proof that breast milk has any sort of health benefits for adults, but that hasn’t prevented theories from being promulgated across the internet — with many touting breast milk’s benefits as a cure for acne, a treatment for sore throats, and a muscle-building secret for bodybuilders.
It’s that last demographic that has proved lucrative for a new mom in Cyprus, who says she’s raked in $6,000 by selling her excess breast milk to bodybuilders. Rafaela Lamprou, a 24-year-old hotel worker, gave birth to her son, Angelo, in August. Soon after, she noticed that the amount of breast milk she was producing far outweighed the amount her son needed.
“I asked a couple of mums who were having trouble breastfeeding if they wanted it,” Lamprou said in an interview with Caters News Agency, adding that, initially, she began “giving it away.” But after word got out that Lamprou had extra breast milk, she started getting requests from men, specifically bodybuilders, who “said it was good for building muscle mass.”
Now seven months in, Lamprou says she has sold nearly 133 gallons of her own breast milk to strangers — for a total of £4,500 ($6,231). The selling began through a Facebook group she created but has now moved on to a website where men can “approach” Lamprou for the milk. She regularly ships it, frozen, to places within her own country and the U.K.
Although she has had to field some “creeps” who have breast milk fetishes, for the most part Lamprou told Caters that the outcome has been positive. “I had no idea with my first baby that you could do this kind of thing,” she said. “But now it is quite addictive.”
For the bodybuilders requesting the milk, it seems equally enticing. On bodybuilding internet threads, breast milk is often referred to as the “greatest supplement ever,” and a way to find an “edge in the gym.” A personal trainer in England once told the Daily Mail he felt “stronger and bigger” after starting to drink the liquid regularly.
The science world seems to have a different opinion. When asked about the topic by ABC News, the director of Mount Sinai Roosevelt’s gynecology center, Jacques Moritz, MD, offered a simple answer: “There is nothing specific in breast milk that will cause adults to gain muscle mass.” In an interview with Elle, a nutritionist echoed Moritz’s view. “It has a higher nutritional profile in some ways, but it’s certainly not worth the effort sourcing it or even the social distaste from consuming it,” Dana James told Elle. “You’d be better off training for an extra 10 minutes per day than seeking out breast milk.”
If the Cyprus woman’s clients are paying for something that’s only beneficial in theory, they’re not alone. Breast milk has become big business on the internet in recent years, largely thanks to a website called OnlytheBreast.com. Started in 2009 by Chelly Snow, a mom of three, the site connects potential buyers with new moms who are looking to sell their breast milk.
“There is a great demand for a community for moms to buy and sell their breast milk,” writes Snow, who built the online marketplace with her husband, a web developer. “We believe that if one mom has extra breast milk and another does not have enough, there should be a place for them to connect that is clean safe and private.”
The ads, or “breast milk classifieds,” present intimate descriptions both of the mother’s milk and why she’s selling it. “My name is Brittany. I’m selling extra breast milk to help buy my kids things they need,” a mom of two from Gallatin, Tenn., wrote on March 5. “Drug free, smoke free, and no supplements used. I’m selling for 2.00 per oz.”
While some moms seem open to many buyers, others are specifically interested in helping other new moms in need. “I am a 29 year old mom who is experienced in selling breast milk. Have sold over 5,000 oz to buyers in the past with my other children,” a Colorado woman posted on the same day. “No Adult Wet Nursing, No Pictures, No Videos….Donation to a BABY ONLY!”
In the past, Only the Breast has been criticized for not employing a system to make sure the breast milk is safe, thus endangering those who buy it. Additionally, several studies have uncovered dangers in purchasing human milk online. In 2013 the journal of Pediatrics published a report in which researchers found high levels of bacteria — including fecal contamination — in human breast milk purchased from the internet. A 2015 study from the same journal found cow milk in samples of the breast milk, a particularly dangerous find in the case of babies with lactose-intolerance.
For its part, the Food and Drug Administration specifically advises against purchasing any human breast milk from the internet — whether for babies or adults. “When human milk is obtained directly from individuals or through the internet, the donor is unlikely to have been adequately screened for infectious disease or contamination risk,” an advisory on the FDA’s site reads. “In addition, it is not likely that the human milk has been collected, processed, tested, or stored in a way that reduces possible safety risks to the baby.”
Outside of the breast milk marketplace, there are some moms who have chosen to simply donate their milk. Last July, Oregon mom Elisabeth Anderson-Sierra made news for donating 600 gallons of her own breast milk to moms in need. Anderson-Sierra said she suffered from a condition called hyperlactation syndrome, which caused her body to produce way more milk than needed. “If everybody had this kind of mentality, the world would be a better place,” Anderson-Sierra told People. “I feel like I am doing my part, one ounce at a time.”
As for Lamprou and her Cyprus-based market, she’s unclear how much longer it will last. But even selling to some people with “fetishes,” she’s happy to have found a lucrative business. “It was a bit strange at first giving breast milk to a guy with fetishes, but as long as it is just that and [I’m] not asked to show any part of my body, I don’t mind it at all,” Lamprou said. “I am open-minded.”
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