Saturday, January 17, 2009

Market for human breast milk

The New Yorker reports on mother's milk: Baby Food. It turns out that this is a repugnant market:

"Can a human-milk bank pay a woman for her milk? (Milk banks provide hospitals with pasteurized human milk.) No, because doing so would violate the ethical standards of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America."

Long before breast pumps, mothers who couldn't or didn't wish to breast feed hired other lactating women as"wet nurses," but it turns out that this practice, while ancient, has also been repugnant in some times and places:
"... contracts for wet nurses have been found on scrolls in Babylonia." ...
"Mary Wollstonecraft, in her “Vindication of the Rights of Woman” (1792), scoffed that a mother who “neither suckles nor educates her children, scarcely deserves the name of a wife, and has no right to that of a citizen.” The following year, the French National Convention ruled that women who employed wet nurses could not apply for state aid; not long afterward, Prussia made breast-feeding a legal requirement. "

The article also comments on fashion and socioeconomic class:
"By the nineteen-tens, a study of a thousand Boston women reported that ninety per cent of the poor mothers breast-fed, while only seventeen per cent of the wealthy mothers did. (Just about the opposite of the situation today.)"...
" (A brief history of food: when the rich eat white bread and buy formula, the poor eat brown bread and breast-feed; then they trade places.)"

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