On the surface, Jameson Ritenour’s post-workout routine seems pretty standard. He mixes protein powder and supplements with milk, downs it, and goes about his day. But there’s an important distinction: Ritenour doesn’t drink 2 percent, whole, or even almond milk. He drinks breast milk.
“People thought I was kind of crazy,” he says. “But every time someone brought it up, I was like, ‘People do this all the time. Pro athletes pay people for their breast milk.’ ”
Ritenour is 33 years old and lives in South Carolina. He started drinking breast milk after his girlfriend gave birth to each of their three kids. He would add any leftover into his protein shake — usually about 3 to 4 ounces at a time.
“I felt like it was just extra and it couldn’t hurt,” he explained, adding that he’s been an amateur bodybuilder for years and cares enormously about his physique. In the past, he’s used steroids to bulk up. So why not breast milk?
Ritenour isn’t the only man posing the question about breast milk. Some, like Ritenour, see human breast milk as “liquid gold,” a substance that can help them achieve the ideal physique; others, however, drink it for other purposes, often of the erotic sort. These men acquire it from milk-producing partners or purchase it at online breast milk marketplaces, sometimes spending hundreds of dollars for a supply.
For some, breast milk is seen as some sort of super supplement. Colostrum, the term for the milk immediately produced by mammals after birth, is, as Ritenour sees it, “one of the most anabolic things out there.” Reaching an anabolic state, where the muscle is actively being repaired and built, is the holy grail of bodybuilding — hence the popularity of anabolic steroids. Human colostrum does contain a growth hormone thought to help muscle recovery. More importantly, it contains human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs), which is the gold in “liquid gold.”
“I always drank breast milk. I like it, but I never fully realized its potential as a supplement until I started using it as the cornerstone of my diet,” writes user Lefticle in a thread on bodybuilding.com. Over on Reddit, user jabmaster2 writes, “I get mine for free from the wife though lol. I’m feeling soo anabolic right now. Seriously though breast milk + Oreos = Win.”
Ritenour didn’t specify whether he ever tried that cookie and milk combo, but he did say breast milk might be the most “exotic” thing he’s taken. “No ground-up rhino horn,” he laughed.
Bruce German, a professor of food science and technology at UC Davis, has studied breast milk for more than two decades. He says that breast milk’s nutritional makeup changes each day — even each hour — as the baby it’s meant for grows. In other words, milk for a newborn is completely different from milk for a 6-month-old, and they’re both particular to that mother and that baby. On average, though, one cup contains around 170 calories, 10 grams of fat, 16 grams of carbs, and only 2 grams of protein.
So, has it helped Ritenour on his quest for a bigger physique?
“I don’t know,” he admitted. “It wasn’t like it was coming from some strange lady off Craigslist or anything,” he explained, adding that he’s “a little heeby-jeeby about drinking someone else’s booby juice.”
Other men don’t have the same hang-ups. Sites like Eats on Feets, Human Milk 4 Human Babies, and Only the Breast — which provide surplus breast milk for moms unable to produce enough themselves — are now used by plenty of men, too. “A strong case can be made for the medical use of breast milk by adults,” writes Eats on Feets on its FAQ page.
Meanwhile, Only the Breast has a section called “Willing to Sell to Men,” which features ads from women looking to sell “liquid gold” as well as men looking to buy it.
“Extra! Extra! Healthy Mother of two producing three times what my baby needs,” reads one recent ad, the author of which specified in the text that she’s “willing to sell to men for alternative purposes (such as bodybuilding)” another seller promises she’s “open-minded” and “will ship discreetly.”
There are plenty of ads from men like “Seeking Fresh Milk in Atlanta” and “Looking to buy breast milk locally.” It’s clear from reading that they are not men looking for breast milk for their children but men looking to use it for other purposes. The average price is $1.50 per ounce, though there have been reports of women making thousands of dollars through online sales.
Not all these men are drinking breast milk to build muscle. Some do it for a simpler reason: They enjoy it.
“I first got into it as my wife used to feed me when she was feeding our second child,” said Alex, from Nottingham, U.K., who was advertising on Only the Breast. “It was a very intimate experience. She didn’t want to with our third though.… As a result, I have developed a taste for breast milk. I love the taste and the fact that it is produced by another human.”
Another solicitor, Martin*, who lives in Atlanta, said he was “primarily into it for the erotic thrill.”
“I am constantly looking for adult nursing companions and often buy breast milk just to sip even if the woman does not want to nurse. I have found a couple of women on [Only the Breast] willing to nurse.”
That’s also one reason 47-year-old Kevin* in Middletown, New York, drinks it.
“At times, it can also be sexually arousing,” he said. “I might be viewed as some kind of pervert. But I really see nothing wrong with it. If the woman is willing to sell to me then I’m more than happy to take what she’s willing to part with.”
Kevin said he prefers to pick up milk in person and usually drinks about 5 ounces per day when he can get it.
“The most I purchased at one time was 60 ounces, for two dollars an ounce,” he said. “To me, knowing where it’s coming from feels cleaner than drinking cow’s milk … it taste [sic] good. And I believe that it has some health benefits over cow’s milk.”
The HMOs in breastmilk are also attracting the attention from the supplement industry. Giant chemical companies like DowDuPont and BASF are ramping up their production of synthetic HMOs for adult use. DuPont recently estimated that the annual market may reach $1 billion.
So, in the future, will we all be popping breast milk capsules as though they were calcium supplements?
Who knows? But, when it comes to breast milk, many researchers and doctors aren’t convinced that adults should be ingesting it at all.
“Nutritionally, this is anything but a diet that would make sense” for bodybuilders or adults in general, said German, explaining that breast milk is also 7 percent lactose, twice as much as cow’s milk.
“If they’re lucky, they have bacteria in them that turns the lactose into good things; if they’re unlucky, they’re lactose-intolerant and the milk makes them uncomfortable,” he laughed.
Being a little uncomfortable has never stopped bodybuilders before. What about the muscle-building benefits? What about the health benefits claimed about the HMOs in breast milk?
German explained that newborns essentially do not have an immune system and that, through the birthing process, the mother transfers her own immune system to her baby. He said he understands the logic of “If I want to get the microbiome of a baby back, milk seems to do it.” And, he says, “there are more oligosaccharides than protein in breast milk.”
Ka-ching for bodybuilders, right?
Unfortunately, per German, HMOs are indigestible.
“The idea that you’re going to get [HMOs] from milk is an oblique misunderstanding of how the whole thing works,” German said. Because adults can’t process the oligosaccharides, he added, they leave the milk drinker’s body in an, um, solid state.
Beyond this unsettling situation, breast milk, German said, is raw and dangerous.
“The more you leave milk in its raw state, the more you risk consuming milk with bacteria that could be pathogenic.”
There’s also a larger risk posed by those who buy their milk online. A recent study in Pediatrics evaluated breast milk bought in online marketplaces. Researchers found staph in 64 percent of the samples, strep in 36 percent, and other bacteria in 75 percent. They also found salmonella in three samples. Strep and staph are enough, but a bodily fluid like milk can also transmit diseases such as HIV — for which sites like Only the Breast do not test.
“When human milk is obtained directly from individuals or through the Internet, the donor is unlikely to have been adequately screened for infectious disease or contamination risk,” writes the FDA. “In addition, it is not likely that the human milk has been collected, processed, tested, or stored in a way that reduces possible safety risks to the baby.” Or the adult.
Knowing all this, would Ritenour drink breast milk again? He sure would.
“I definitely would continue drinking it and supplementing with it if I could,” he said. “I would say for anyone that’s looking for any kind of edge or natural supplement, outside of the stigma of drinking breast milk, I would suggest it.” He didn’t elaborate further except to say that even the extra calories would be beneficial for bulking up.
As explained, German has his own reasons why this shouldn’t be the case. But he also has another reason for disliking the trend.
“The most discouraging part is that we don’t support mothers in breastfeeding,” he said. “Society doesn’t give women time off work, doesn’t give them any advantages whatsoever just to be able to breastfeed. And now we’re stealing babies’ milk for rich, white men.”
* Some names have been changed