Breast milk: It’s not just for babies anymore

Breast milk for bodybuilders
© Belinda Pretorius

Bodybuilders and athletes are seeking out the latest "natural superfood" online.

On the one hand, it’s great that the nutritional value of breast milk has become recognized. It’s the superest of super foods with a long history of being shunned. But that it’s become sought-after by male athletes as a bodybuilding supplement feels like the pendulum may have swung too far.

And it's not because breast milk should exclusively stay in the family. Breast milk sharing and banks are invaluable, especially for babies born with complications and with mothers who cannot provide milk for their infants. As Katherine Martinko pointed out in Why we need more human breast milk banks, among other things, “breast milk reduces the risk of infections and allergies, while improving blood pressure and bone density. Pre-term babies who receive breast milk instead of formula are less likely to develop insulin resistance, obesity, and high levels of bad cholesterol.”

But now the practice of breast milk sharing has gone from donating and trading to full-on commodity. Web sites like Only the Breast, the “Craigslist of breast milk,” offers buyers and sellers a place to do business. And at various spots around the web breast milk is being bought and sold not only for infants but for those seeking a magic bullet for athletic performance. Who needs steroids when you can have baby food?

“It gives me incredible energy I don’t get from other food and drinks,” one athlete told New York Magazine. “I believe it has kept me from getting sick all these years,” said another. “You are selling your gains short if you are not supplementing with this stuff,” notes a commenter on a forum.

And thus, breast milk’s profit potential is going through the roof. “Breastmilk’s commercial value is being heralded as “liquid gold” in non–health-related Web sites such as Penny Hoarder whose motivation is to educate mothers how to “make extra cash” from their precious body liquid, and as a result the altruistic donation of breastmilk to regulated nonprofit milk banks is being threatened” writes Arthur I. Eidelman, MD in Breastfeeding Medicine. And indeed, "How to Make Money Selling Breast Milk ($60 a Day!)" turns up right at the top of a quick Google search.

In general I like to think: to each his own. If people want to drink breast milk, that’s there thing. If women want to make extra money selling theirs, who am I to judge? But the problem is that babies need breast milk; studies persist in showing that numerous diseases and conditions can be prevented by it, and not all babies have access to it. We can’t dictate what a woman should do with her breast milk, but for an adult man to be sucking it down in the name of a better physique just seems wrong when there are babies in need. Maybe the the "Breast is Best" campaign needs some clarification: "Breast is Best ... for babies."

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