PORTLAND -- Women all over the country are cashing in on what people are calling a mother's "natural liquid gold" - human breast milk. They're selling it online on websites that look a lot like Craigslist but it doesn't come without risk.
Breast milk has been screened and sold through breast milk banks for decades for about $5 an ounce. But more than 100 locals moms have also been trying to sell it through a website called Only the Breast for half that price.
Portland mom Yoon Richards had baby Yuri four months ago and quickly discovered an unexpected problem. Yuri would eat six to seven times a day and yet Yoon would still have an extra 12 ounces collected through pumping; enough milk for another child.
"I decided to Google breast milk donation," Yoon said.
She found that many of the companies required the mother to pay for the extra bags and shipping, so Yoon turned to Only the Breast.
"I decided it was a great way to cover the costs that go into donating milk," Yoon said. "The mother contacted me through email... She said when she first heard she couldn't produce breast milk, she said she was devastated and I could understand why."
At $2 an ounce, all through Pay Pal, Yoon has made $80 so far.
"I assumed that when I started selling milk, the company would have some kind of screening but there was no screening whatsoever," she said.
That's the problem. It's all based on the honor system. When a mother donates to a hospital-run milk bank, donors go through a rigorous blood and DNA-screening process before the milk is accepted.
"That is ethically a poor decision for both parties. Either to buy or sell. It's a body fluid, that's like me selling my blood," said R.N. Doris Onnis with Providence lactation services. The FDA considers breast milk a food, so it's not regulated and not illegal. But feeding a baby milk from an anonymous source can expose the child to HIV or herpes and milk that contains alcohol or drugs.
Many moms have found milk banks won't sell to them because top priority goes to preemies in the NICU. On the flip side, the milk bank that all Portland hospitals buy from is seeing a huge shortage of donations over the last three years as more moms turn to selling online.
Although Yoon, who both sells and donates, feels blessed she can help as many people as she does in any way.
"I do what I do because I've heard of moms who couldn't produce for their children and breast feeding does mean a lot to moms out there," she said.
But when asked if the roles were reversed, would she buy online? Yoon's answer was - no.
Providence St. Vincent runs a major milk donation collection and wants moms to know there's a handful of milk banks across the country that don't charge for donating.
A local group is also trying to raise the funds to build a milk bank in Portland that would give mothers yet another option. People interested in learning more about that effort can check the NW Mothers Milk Bank website for updates.