‘Commercialization of breast milk is unethical & wrong’

Breast Milk Health Interview Women

Breastfeeding is the most effective way to ensure a newborn child’s well-being. It depends on the principle of demand and supply. Dr Shagufta Parveen, a lactation support consultant, founder CEO of Herwellness and co-founder of The Birth Home, Midwifery care centre, spoke to The Observer about the ethics of donating and selling breast milk. Excerpts from an interview:

Dr Shagufta Parveen

How long does a woman lactate? How much excess milk can she produce?

There is no specific period of time for women to lactate. Traditionally, women used to breastfeed their children for four to five years. Now, we have guidelines from the WHO that say a childbearing woman must breastfeed her child for two years. After that, it is a choice. Sometimes, we can help a woman re-lactate after she stops breastfeeding her child. As long as a lactating woman is having nutritious food and a healthy mind, she can produce as much as her baby wants to consume.

Human milk banks and companies like Neolacta sell pasteurized breast milk. How good or bad is it for the baby who consumes it?

Pasteurization is a way to increase the shelf life of any product. For this, we pasteurize human milk. Even after following the regulations of pasteurization, certain nutrients and important components are lost. It can also be bad for the baby because he/she won’t be able to access all of the nutrients present in breast milk.

Breastfeeding creates a bond between the mother and the baby. Will feeding milk from a woman who is not the baby’s mother have any psychological effect on it?

Through breastfeeding, a mother creates an environment of safety and security for her child. Emotions play a vital role. Emotion and nutrition required for the child go hand in hand while breastfeeding. But when the situation of the child is adverse, where the baby is not surviving on formula and is in a dire need of milk, the mother has no option but to opt to use someone else’s milk.

Is it ethical to sell a 300-ml bottle of breast milk for Rs 4,500? 

Commercializing human milk is wrong. Breastfeeding is the first step of a woman into motherhood, and selling it (her milk) is wrong. The process of storing breast milk is costly, I agree; but if it doesn’t match the retail price of breast milk, it is ethically incorrect.

If the donor has a minor health issue, will it impact a baby that consumes her milk?

Lactation banks perform health tests on woman who wants to donate breast milk. After the tests come promising, then they proceed to collect the donated breast milk. Pasteurization can help eliminate any existing bad elements in the milk. It would (have an) impact if breast milk has any issues. I am not sure how companies like Neolacta do it.

We see western countries encouraging the commercialization of breast milk. Do you think our country will also normalize companies selling breast milk in the future?

Developed countries might not have any problems with commercializing breast milk because they do not do it just for monetary purposes. In India, the situation is different. There would be instances where women from below poverty line would see this opportunity as a source of income. The more she produces breast milk, the more she needs to consume healthy food and (take) proper rest. The two main hormones that help in the production of breast milk are prolactin and oxytocin. If the mother tries to produce more than she should, she will be in both nutrition and hormone deficient. The joy of motherhood should be celebrated by breastfeeding, but selling it (breast milk) for a price destroys the nature of it.

yashaswini.s@iijnm.org

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