Keen to understand how breastmilk is traded informally online, Alev Scott decided to put some of her own excess milk up for sale. Soon after posting an ad on a popular breastmilk marketplace, Alev found her inbox filling up with explicit sexual requests from men. Here she asks who might buy breastmilk for pleasure, what pushes women to sell it to them, and why making money from your own milk is often considered controversial.
But by far the largest cohort of customers for breastmilk sold online, as I was to discover from my own research, are men with a fetish for both breastmilk itself and for the bodies of breastfeeding mothers. There’s even a market for adult wet-nursing or “erotic lactation”, a genre of porn I previously had no idea existed.
I was fascinated. I wanted to find out more about the informal breastmilk market, and its buyers and sellers. I’d donated my milk but never sold it. So, under a pseudonym, I set up a seller’s account on Only The Breast, one of the main marketplaces for breastmilk sales in the US and UK.
In the past, the site had categories specifically for men wanting breastmilk and I quickly discovered that filtering ads by “Willing to Sell to Men” or “Men Seeking Breast Milk” produced the most results. These categories have now been removed, but the male customer base is still going strong.
Scrolling through the existing ads, I noticed that each one had a counter revealing how many times it had been viewed. Photos of cleavage got many more views than photos of neatly arranged milk bottles.
There is a distinctly Tinder-esque vibe to many of the ads on the site, but I wanted mine to appear as clinical and non-sexual as possible. I posted an offer of fresh or frozen milk at the going UK price (£1.50 per ounce) accompanied by a no-nonsense photo of a full bottle I had just pumped. Nothing about my age or appearance, only the facts that my baby and I were healthy, I had excess milk and had previously donated to a hospital.
Of the many requests I received after posting the ad, all of them except one appeared to be from men. Most were sexual. One man, from the US, asked if I provided videos; he offered to pay $5 a minute, wanting “Breast play and hand expression. Self-suck if they are large enough.”
Another claimed he would pay me in advance “on a regular basis” if I sent him videos of myself simply using my breast pump. He sent detailed instructions and clips of previous commissions “for inspiration”.
Of the many requests I received after posting the ad, all of them except one appeared to be from men.
Another man, this time from the UK, initially said he was a gym-goer wanting fresh milk, before asking – almost in passing – if I would wet-nurse him. With some trepidation, I asked what exactly he proposed. For moral support, I insisted my husband read the exchange over my shoulder:
“If you want I can host somewhere and we can go from there if you wish to? I understand your child comes first so please don't hesitate to tend to your child.”
I decided to probe a little further: “Is it primarily for your health or a pleasure thing (I'm guessing latter as freshly pumped is just as good)?”
His unconvincing response: “It’s just for my health really, there is some pleasure with it but strictly for my health.”
A fetish for breastfeeding
What’s behind this fetish for breastmilk? I spoke to Karen Pollock, a psychotherapist working with gender-, sexuality- and relationship-diverse communities. Karen listed three categories of men who might have contacted me.
First, men attracted to lactating women, closely associated with those attracted to pregnant women (a top search term on Pornhub, according to Karen). “It’s probably as instinctive as it gets to be attracted to someone who has proved their fertility.”
Second, Karen cited men with a mummy fetish, including “adult babies”. “There are sexualised adult babies and non-sexualised. Some people really do just want to return to infancy – some of the men who contacted you will have just wanted that.” The idea that the fetish might not be sexual but something more emotional intrigued me.
Finally, Karen mentioned men who are into human-cow porn. This can involve various things, including women dressed as cows being milked by breast-pumping machines. “But this is the rarest category. And some of the men contacting you will just have got a thrill out of the exchange itself. That would be the goal – to cross a moral line.” This, oddly, disturbed me the most – knowing I had invited the exchange.
Making money from milk
More importantly, I wanted to know more about the women selling milk online. I contacted several; one described her customers as “most[ly] men and freaks”, while others complained about “scammers”, and reported multiple requests from men.
The moral debate surrounding the sale of breastmilk is complex. From one perspective, the potential to make money is an empowering choice for new mothers otherwise excluded from the labour market. Another perspective is that this unregulated market is immoral, disturbing, prone to exploitation of both provider and consumer.
More puritanically, some believe that breastfeeding creates a sacrosanct bond between mother and child and are uncomfortable about the idea of profiting from lactation. I’ve seen harsh condemnation from other mothers on forums like netmums.com.
Some ads placed on Only The Breast hint at real desperation for money, apparently posted even before giving birth: “I’ve just induced successfully and am only getting drops but my amount is quickly increasing. As soon as I am able to pump a worthy amount I’d like to sell on a regular basis fresh or frozen.” Another pregnant woman – a “healthy first time surrogate” – was also advertising her milk in advance, knowing that her baby’s parents would take them away soon after birth.
I asked Josephine, a breastfeeding mum from the US, why she sold her milk. She compared pumping to work: “I sell [rather than] donate because it’s literally a second job – I wake up twice at night to pump, spend 30 min per pump, and pump every 3–4 hours throughout the day.”
Crucially, her argument was, “If women are OK buying formula, why wouldn’t they be OK buying fresh healthy milk from women that spend a large amount of their personal time towards producing it?”
I saw her point – a capitalist but defensible position. So why was I uncomfortable with selling my milk, even to other mothers rather than men? If I’d needed the money badly enough, perhaps I’d have felt compelled to join to the ranks of countless other women who have sold their breastmilk throughout history.
Some names have been changed.
About the contributors
Alev Scott is a journalist and author. Previously based in Istanbul and Athens, she has written about politics and culture in the Mediterranean region for the Financial Times, the Guardian, Harper’s Magazine and Newsweek, among others. Her books are ‘Turkish Awakening’, ‘Ottoman Odyssey’ and ‘Power and the People’.
Vicky Scott is a Sheffield-based freelance illustrator who specialises in creating colourful and eye-catching mixed-media collages. Her work is inspired by Art Deco, 1960s psychedelia, mid-20th-century travel posters, and the natural world. To date, she has been commissioned to illustrate for a diverse range of clients including Microsoft, Cheltenham Festivals, the Postal Museum, Waitrose and the RSPB.