black women

Mothers Being Exploited For Their Breast Milk?

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The New York Times recently revealed that Medolac, a for-profit company who does not have any Black employees or board members, is starting a campaign that targets poor Black mothers in Detroit to encourage them to sell their breastmilk to the company.  While there are multiple companies that allow mothers to sell their breastmilk for it to be processed and sold, Medolac’s targeting of a Black community that it has no meaningful tie to in order to make astronomical, self-serving profit under the guise of economic empowerment for the Black mothers they are exploiting is being called into question.

Medolac is a company based in Oregon that collaborates with the Clinton Global Initiative.  Medolac’s founder Elena Medo helped start Mothers Milk Cooperative, a milk bank that allows mothers to sell their milk for $1 an ounce to Medolac.  Medolac then sells the milk to hospitals at a markup of 600 percent for $7 an ounce.  The local campaign being conducted by Medolac states that its purpose is “to increase breast-feeding rates among urban African-American women” and to also promote “healthy behavior and prolonged breast-feeding within their communities.”

While on the surface, Medolac may seem like their efforts are benevolent, Kimberly Allers of the New York Times points out that, “while there may be an argument to be made for paying women for breast milk, the economic and racial elements of the Medolac plan make it look more like a modern-day breast milk marketing scheme than public benefit.”  While there are ethical implications that come with commodifying a mother’s milk, specifically targeting Black women conjures up images of slaves being used as wet nurses.

Medolac is claiming that paying mothers for their milk will increase the likelihood that they will breastfeed and also increase the length of time they breastfeed.  There has not been any research done to support those claims.  The company also claims that the goal is to economically empower Black women, but the truth is that at $1 an ounce, very few women are actually able to produce enough breastmilk to earn enough money selling it to make any significant changes to her families financial situation.

Another aspect of Medolac’s activities that reveal that their intentions are not completely benign or benevolent is that fact that the milk they buy from Detroit mothers will not be given to babies in Detroit where the infant mortality rate is a horrifying 15 deaths per 1,000 births.  In fact, most urban and publicly funded hospitals, whether they are in Detroit or any other city, are not able to afford the milk Medolac resells, which means Black babies are less likely to benefit from the milk being purchased from Black mothers.

Not only is Medolac making an exponential amount of profit reselling the milk they buy, they have also taken the very privileged approach of not reaching out to the community they allege to be trying to help and have also assumed they know what it is that Black mothers need to increase their rate of breastfeeding.