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Ideas

Ethical Questions Facing The For-Profit Breast Milk Market

New companies have been launched around the world that employ women to pump breast milk on contract. Yet it could lead to women pumping for profit, and even sacrificing the nutrition of their own child.

CAMBRIDGE — Over the last few decades, the demand for breast milk has grown. The message “breast is best" has driven parents and caregivers to buy breast milk. Even the unwell, bodybuilders and “clean eaters" are known to use it. Once limited to milk banks and peer-to-peer sharing, a new for-profit milk market has emerged.

Companies producing a range of breast milk products are popping up around the globe, including in India, Cambodia, the U.S. and England. These products include formula replacements – designed to be the sole source of nutrition – and other dietary supplements that complement or are added to formula.

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Watch: OneShot - 10 Years Ago, Breastfeeding In Afghanistan

The pure beauty of Siamoy breastfeeding her month-old baby Hokim, in this image taken exactly 10 years ago, powerfully contrasts with a grim reality on the ground. NOOR photographer Alixandra Fazzina had traveled to the remote Afghan province of Badakshan because it had the highest rate of maternal mortality in the world. Capturing this angelic scene shone a light on the dire need to care for mothers and children around the world.

Fazzina told The Guardian: "I took about 10 frames of Siamoy. People say this image looks religious, kind of iconic, like a Madonna and child, but I've never seen that. I think it's something more simple: there is a beauty to Siamoy, a power and serenity showing something dignified about motherhood."

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Why Egyptian Women Don’t Breastfeed: Bad Maternity Leave, Public Shame

CAIRO — Wessam Said, 28, would have liked to breastfeed her child, but something was holding her back that had nothing to do with health or social norms: as the family's main breadwinner, she was simply working too much. "What could I do, our conditions are dire," she said.

It's medically advised around the world that newborns are breastfed until they are at least six months old. But in Egypt, only 40% of newborns are exclusively breastfed until the recommended age, according to the health ministry's Demographic and Health Survey (DHS) of Egypt in 2014 released last year.

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From Breast To Baby … Via A Mother's Milk Bank

India accounts for 20% of the world's infant mortalities, and parents in this male-dominated society often reject newborn daughters. A milk bank in Udaipur helps to prevent the deaths of premature babies and to feed those abandoned at birth.

UDAIPUR — Sonu Nagda is breastfeeding her 8-month-old daughter. She has more than enough milk, so she regularly donates some of it to her local milk bank in the Indian city of Udaipur. "Donating breast milk doesn't cost me anything," Nagda says. "Think of the infants whose mothers have died or the mothers who aren't able to feed their children."

The Divya Mother Milk Bank is run by a local non-profit that also runs an orphanage for abandoned children in Udaipur. Devendra Agrawal, a yoga guru who heads the group, says most of the children are girls. "We decided to educate the people that if you don't like your daughters, gift them to us," he says. "Within no time, hundreds of daughters were left in our orphanage."

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China

In China, Soap Made From Human Breast Milk

BEIJING — According to Beijing Youth Daily, soap made from breast milk is one of China's latest fads. Just type in "breast milk soap" on Taobao, China's biggest e-commerce site, and 88 pages of breast milk-related products are in display.

Apart from those selling soaps made with the breast milk of new mothers — at prices ranging from $3 to $16 — even more sites are selling kits allowing people to make their own. Obviously there is a market, and a big one.

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