Freshly made breast milk sells for 150 yuan (US$22) for 250ml. Photo: Handout

Chinese mums cash in on latest and lucrative craze: selling surplus breast milk

Although the trade is not large, the commodity can sell online for as much as US$22 per 250ml

Breast milk is being sold online openly in China with a 250ml bag of fresh breast milk going for as much as 150 yuan (US$22), despite the practice being technically illegal, according to local media reports.

Breast milk is sold on various online platforms, including specialised sites, with prices ranging from 15 yuan to 60 yuan, the West China City Daily reported.

Prices double for fresh breast milk produced on the day, with a 250 millilitre bag going for 150 yuan (US$22).

Mothers in China have sold excess breast milk online for some years, a practice that may see a boost as the country grapples with its highest newborn population since the turn of the century.

While buying and selling breast milk is technically illegal – the health ministry does not categorise it as a food that can be produced or sold as a commodity – both online and offline sales of breast milk are common.

But sales are not very high, with just a few dozen to 100 sales over a few months.

Li Xixi, a new mother in Chengdu, Sichuan province, often produces more milk than her nearly two-month old baby can consume. After feeding her young child, she can still be left with three to four 250ml bags of milk each day, which would otherwise go to waste.

“Every day, earning two to three hundred yuan shouldn’t be a problem,” she was quoted as saying. “Over a six-month lactation period, one can ideally earn tens of thousands of yuan without a problem.”

Mothers have been selling surplus milk online for some time, especially since the tainted milk scandal of 2008. Photo: Handout

A worker at a local company, who acts as a middleman for breast milk sales, told the West China City Daily that some mothers could earn between 7,000 and 8,000 yuan in a good month selling breast milk. They noted that a small number of mothers capitalised on the trade by ending breastfeeding early or eating foods that boosted lactation.

But sellers are cautious, aware of the unregulated nature of the trade, and asked local reporters to provide birth certificates or proof of address when they inquired about breast milk.

Demand for breast milk continues to grow, as China’s newborn population last year reached its highest level since 2000 at nearly 17.9 million. Nearly half of the births are second children, following the country’s relaxation of its long-standing one-child policy.

But the practice of buying and selling breast milk is not new in China, particularly in the wake of the tainted milk powder scandal in 2008 that left nearly 300,000 babies ill. China also opened its first breast milk bank in Guangzhou in late 2013.

“If I don’t have enough breast milk, I would prefer to purchase human breast milk because I don’t trust our milk powder,” new mother Fang Lu told CNN in 2013.

Chen Yi, a doctor in Chengdu, said breast milk had natural advantages over milk powder, but that children of a different age from the child birthed by the mother may not be able to completely absorb the nutrition.

There are also concerns about the storage of breast milk, which could be exposed to infectious diseases and become unsafe to drink.