Breast milk: New food fad of the rich in China

Fed up of bird’s nest or ginseng tonics to boost nutrition?

Freshly-expressed breast milk are reportedly the hottest new item on the menu for some rich people in the prosperous southern economic hub of Shenzhen, who believe this infants’ food is the best way is supplement their adult diets.

So some hire a live-in “nai ma” (wet nurses) for 16,000 yuan (S$3,308) - or even more for the prettier or more voluptuous ones - a month to supply milk on demand, the Southern Metropolis Daily newspaper reported on July 2.

The fresh milk can be drunk either from bottles - or straight from the nipple for those who want the most “natural form”, the newspaper quoted Mr Lin Jun, the manager of a “nai ma” agency in Shenzhen, as saying.

Mr Lin claims to be one of the first to introduce this breastfeeding service for adults, and that it has taken off in a big way with wealthy clients not just from Guangdong province but even from Hong Kong as well.

“Especially for those who have just undergone a major operation, breast milk is the most nutritious food, better than bird’s nest,” Mr Lin claimed, noting that his affluent clients work long hours and need to boost their energy levels with “special nutrients”.

One satisfied customer was Mr Wang Bin, the sales director of a major listed company, whose age was not disclosed in his interview with Southern Metropolis Daily.

He got the idea of drinking human milk to combat his constant fatigue after hearing that several business contacts had done so, and that it was an increasingly common practice among the well-heeled in southern China.

So with his wife’s consent, he recently hired a wet nurse to provide him with the liquid meal five times a day, each time in amounts of 500 ml to 800 ml, or about one or two big cups. He added that he drank from a bottle because he “did not dare to try directly sucking milk”.

Did it yield the desired results?

“After drinking it for a month, I didn’t really see my body getting much better,” he admitted.

Indeed, nutritionists say that breast milk, while a perfect food for infants, may not contain all the necessary nutrients that adults need to sustain health.

Netizens also lambasted this practice as “disgusting” and a form of “bourgeois exploitation”.

Some even compared this with the tyrannical acts of di zhu (feudal landlord) Liu Wenhai, whose anti-socialist crimes included forcing young mothers to feed him breast milk even when he was in his 60s.

Featured in primary school textbooks in the 1970s and 1980s as the archetype of the enemy of the peasant class, he was said to die of sickness in October 1949, the month when a victorious Chinese Communist Party established the People’s Republic of China.

More than 60 years later, rich Chinese are reviving this feudal practice, noted one post on popular forum kdnet.com

“These rich Chinese are taking away precious food from babies, who are already deprived of safe milk formula, while exploiting low-income mothers,” it noted.

Local media also milked public sympathy with stories about struggling wet nurses like that of Ms Xiao Yu, 26. She was quoted as saying that she was feeding her one-month-old baby infant formula while she earned 8,500 yuan a month supplying her own breast milk to a businessman.

“My husband earns just 2,500 yuan as a factory worker, so I need to help out with the household expenses, even if it means sacrificing milk that my baby needs,” she said.

The agent pocketed a princely commission - 2,000 yuan from her, and 6,000 yuan from the customer.

This raised further ire from netizens, who questioned whether it was even legal to promote the marketing and sale of breast milk to adults.

Equally unclear was whether an adult who suckles breast milk - even if there is mutual consent and a fee is paid - could be deemed a sex offence. Local police interviewed by Southern Metropolis Daily said it was a “grey area”.

graceng@sph.com.sg