Canada
BC breast milk bank facing drought

Frances Jones coordinator of BC Women's Hospital Milk Bank with some of their inventory.

Credits: ROB KRUYT/QMI AGENCY

ADA SILVINSKI | QMI AGENCY

VANCOUVER -- Got milk? Not always, it seems.

The breast milk bank at BC Women's Hospital is experiencing a shortage of donations.

The problem isn't that fewer women can donate, rather they may be giving their milk away over the Internet instead.

In 2011, about 130 women were tested as potential donors, a number that has risen to 175 so far this year.

However, Frances Jones, co-ordinator for the hospital's milk bank and lactation program, noted donation quantities were down.

She worried some women choose to donate their milk through other means, advertising the fact that they've been hospital screened.

In the US, it's common for women to sell their milk for $4 to $5 an ounce, usually through website ads. Similar attempts to sell breast milk in Canada have been stopped since it's illegal to sell bodily fluids.

Still, many women are donating their milk online.

Support websites, such as Human Milk for Human Babies Global Network (hm4hb.net) and Eats on Feets (eatsonfeets.org), match donor mothers with recipients.

"There is a need for community milk sharing, as there always has been, because the milk banks just do not work for every mother or every baby," said Jessica, administrator for Eats on Feets in BC She didn't want her last name published as her employer doesn't support milk sharing and she also didn't want her involvement to interfere with professional relationships.

"The milk bank pasteurizes the milk in order to inactivate pathogens, which also damages many of the antimicrobial factors in the breast milk," she said, adding personal donor screening and developing a relationship eliminates many of the risks.

Health Canada has cautioned against using breast milk procured via the Internet as it could be contaminated with viruses, such as HIV or bacteria causing food poisoning. If the milk isn't stored properly, it can also cause illness.

The BC bank, one of only two in Canada, distributes milk according to need, with premature babies in the neonatal intensive care unit having priority.

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