WAUWATOSA — Maxine Young found out early on after she gave birth that she was what's called an over-producer. She pumped enough breast milk for her babies and had a lot more leftover.
"My first son, I was doing about 71 ounces a day, and my second child, I was doing about 85 ounces a day," Young said.
"What am I going to do with all of this milk? I'm not going to pour it down the drain, or I would like to not do that," she told TMJ4 News.
That's where the Authentic Birth Center in Wauwatosa comes in. In total, Young donated 12,039 ounces of her breast milk to the center's dispensary. It is a donation. Those who give their milk are not paid.
If you go to a local milk bank in Wisconsin, each ounce of breast milk will likely cost you $4.50. So, one bottle (four ounces) is about $20. If a baby drinks six bottles a day, that's $120. That price may give you sticker shock, but oftentimes, parents who buy it don't need a lot because it goes a long way.
"This is something to bridge a gap. We need to get that baby just a little bit more intake," said Molly Peterson, a lactation consultant with Peterson Lactation Services, who works at the birth center.
Peterson says 80 percent of donated breast milk goes to hospitals, which pay for the milk, specifically for NICU babies. The hospitals will roll that cost into a room charge for the NICU or try to bill the insurance.
The other 20 percent is for caregivers to buy, like adoptive parents, parents through surrogacy, or mothers who can't nurse for medical or personal reasons.
In general, Peterson says breast milk is more of a short-term supplement.
"One bottle, four ounces in the beginning, when babies' bellies are the sizes of marbles, it's going to go a very, very long way. So that whole bottle, that four-ounce bottle, is going to last a day if not more," Peterson explained.
Susan Urbanski with the non-profit Mother's Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes says human milk purchased at milk banks like the birth center comes with a high price tag because of the thorough testing of breast milk.
The money goes toward blood draws on donor moms, the pasteurization of the breast milk, and all the screening done on the human milk for harmful chemicals, drugs, viruses, even cow's milk.
"Research has found that it's been altered with cow's milk or altered with yogurt. It's quite scary because when you are getting paid by the ounce, there's this motivation to make it heavy, to make it weigh more," said Urbanski.
For some, selling their breast milk online can be a lucrative business. On eBay, prices are all over the place. One person was selling milk-filled bags for $200 bucks - at $1 an ounce.
"If you look at the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization, they've all spoken out about buying milk online," said Urbanski.
"For us, we have to make sure that every single bottle of milk is completely safe for the most fragile infant," she added.
Urbanski said the screened milk is saving lives.
"Necrotizing enterocolitis, which is abbreviated as NEC, is absolutely devastating and very common in NICUs. The best prevention for NEC is human milk."
The Authentic Birth Center saw milk donations spike at the start of COVID-19 when more moms worked from home. With more people returning to work, now donations have leveled off and milk banks are asking nursing women if they can give.
"It was a practical decision that had the best outcome and did the best, I don't want to say best for the world, but best for my community," said Young. "We're all mothers, and we just want the best for our children and we want all babies to grow and thrive."
Here in Wisconsin, unlike in neighboring Illinois, health insurance companies don't have to cover the cost of donor breast milk. Advocates are hoping that changes. But, there are charity care programs that help pay for it.
Contact Mother's Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes at 847-262-5134 or email email@example.com.