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Bills aim to regulate breast milk donation, sales

Premature babies can benefit from donated or purchased breast milk
Sarah Hopkins
Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM
Premature babies can benefit from donated or purchased breast milk.

Selling or donating human breast milk would be regulated by the state, and distributing “adulterated” breast milk would be a crime, under bills proposed by state Rep. Erika Geiss, D-Taylor.

For those not familiar with this industry: Breast milk banks, like the one at Bronson health systemin Kalamazoo, provide donated milk to sick or premature babies. And breast milk companies pay momsfor their excess milk.

Now, moms would have to wait to donate until 180 days after they give birth, to reduce the risk of women in poverty being exploited, says Geiss.

“[That’s to ensure] that's essentially getting to our most vulnerable residents is safe, that it's collected ethically,” says Geiss. Critics of breast milk companies have raised concerns that moms living in poverty could feel pressure to sell their breast milk, possibly leaving their own child without the chance to breast feed.

Geiss says she’s not aware of any instances of that happening, although she says she did just hear a story about someone selling breast milk that had been donated to them. Still, she says, these bills are more about “mitigating” any potential problems.

Under her proposals, donors would be drug tested to make sure that “that milk, that's going to someone other than your own child, is going to be safe enough for a child that isn't your own – especially a fragile infant,” Geiss says.

Companies that process milk in Michigan would have to comply with state safety standards, too. 

Bronson's milk bank says it's not currently experiencing any shortage of donations, despite a shortage last year, and increasing reporting on for-profit milk companies. We asked Bronson to comment on the proposed state regulations, but didn't get a response. 

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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