Tyra Banks' hit show "America's Next Top Model" has had its share of quirky contestants, but one of this season's hopefuls may qualify as the most bizarre of all, after she admitted to the competition's judges that she drinks her own breast milk.
The contestant, Claire, a 24-year-old native New Yorker, told host Banks that she wants to keep her breast milk flowing so that she can continue to nurse her daughter after she leaves the show.
But when asked by Banks if she's FedExing the milk home to her baby – a common practice by mothers who are separated from their nursing children – Claire's response was surprising.
"Right now I'm actually drinking it," said the bikini-clad Claire, whose last name, like that of all contestants on the show, was not revealed by the show's execs. "It tastes kind of like light soy milk."
"Top Model" contestants are prohibited from talking directly to the media before they are eliminated from the competition, according to a show representative, but Claire answered questions via e-mail.
When asked what her reason was for drinking her breast milk, Claire said that she didn't feel right just throwing it away.
"I drank my breast milk only during audition week because I did not want to waste it after putting all my effort into making and extracting it. Dumping milk just seems wrong," Claire said, adding that at one point she was drinking two or three glasses of breast milk a day. "A mother's milk is like liquid gold, so I also wanted the nutritional value back and to keep my immunity up."
Many of the other models were getting sick during the grueling competition.
Claire also said that without a refrigerator she could not freeze the milk or ship it back home to her 18-month old daughter.
While a mother may benefit marginally from the nutrients found in breast milk, according to several lactation experts, a mother who drinks her own breast milk is exceedingly rare.
"I've never heard of anything like it," said Dr. Myron Peterson, a pediatrician and director of medical affairs for Cato Research in Boston, who has been in the business for more than 32 years. "There's no danger to it, but it's just kind of strange."
Milk Good for Mom, Better for Baby
"Breast milk is definitely great nutrition, great protein and great calories, and ounce for ounce it's low in calories for an adult," said Cheryl Parrott, a registered nurse and board-certified lactation consultant who runs a private practice in Indiana. "But it would have to be in addition to a healthy, regular diet."
But there is no evidence, said Parrott, that consuming more nutrients – like the ones found in breast milk – will improve the quality of a woman's breast milk in the future.
"What you eat and drink nutrition-wise doesn't impact your breast milk," said Parrott. "Living on hamburgers and milkshakes won't give you better or worse breast milk, and so there's no advantage for [Claire] to be taking in what she's putting out."
And while Parrott recognizes and appreciates Claire's desire to keep her milk flowing so she can eventually continue to nurse her baby, she suggests that the new mom freeze her milk or ship it to her baby – who likely needs it more than she does.
"I can understand her doing it in the sense that she doesn't want to waste the breast milk," said Parrott, who compares the taste of breast milk to the sugary milk at the bottom of a bowl of cereal. "But my only word of advice is let's figure out a way to ship this home for the baby."
Dr. Joan Meek, the academic chairman of pediatrics at Orlando Regional Healthcare, agrees with Parrot that Claire – and other nursing mothers – should continue their breast milk flow for as long as possible but instead of drinking it or discarding it, should freeze it.
"You can freeze breast milk for at least three months," said Meek. "That would be a better route [than drinking it]."
Some nursing mothers also choose to donate their extra breast milk, said Meek. The milk is a hot commodity in neo-natal intensive care units and sometimes even in geriatric care, where doctors capitalize on how easy breast milk is to digest – even for the sickest patients.