Facebook vs. milk bank: Why some Alberta moms are sharing breast milk online
The benefits of feeding infants breast milk are hard to deny, just ask any health expert. But that liquid gold isn’t always easy to come by.
Jacquie Higgins was one of the lucky ones. She has been either pregnant or breastfeeding for about four years and found she had an ample supply of milk with both of her two children.
She tried donating her extra milk to Alberta’s only milk bank but said in the end, the screening was too onerous so she found a way to donate online.
“Since I did have two kids, I didn’t want to packing them up and driving around to drop it off and if you don’t have 150 ounces in one go, then you have to keep going back to do it,” Higgins said. “So for me, it was simpler.”
Human Milk 4 Human Babies is a free informal milk-sharing network online.
“You decide together if you want to donate to that person or if that person wants to accept that donation,” Higgins, who has now donated to two different families, said.
“I would rather give it to someone in need that maybe can’t afford to go down there and pick up milk.”
But Northern Star Mothers Milk Bank has some concerns.
The charity charges $17 for every 120 millimetres – the cost of carefully screening, pasteurizing and distributing the precious commodity.
While about a quarter of the milk it supplies goes to women unable to nurse at home, with prescriptions, the vast majority goes to hospitals’ neonatal intensive-care units.
“Because of the recipients of our milk being small fragile infants, it is very important that there is minimal risk of them receiving something through the milk that could be detrimental to their health,” Megan Hallam, clinical coordinator at Northern Star Mothers Milk Bank, said.
So, is online milk sharing safe for babies?
Doctors say it’s a matter of trusting your source and asking donors the right questions.
“Obviously refrigeration – it probably shouldn’t be stored for a long period of time,” Dr. Brian Hauck, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Foothills Medical Centre, said. “Just to make sure that there’s no problems with medications or drugs or any sort.”
He said with endless health benefits in breast milk, availability is important.
“If it increases some access, then for the most part, it’s pretty good,” Hauck said of milk sharing.
For Higgins, the choice was simple.
“I don’t want anything in return. I’m just happy that I was able to help someone and it didn’t go to waste.”
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