We’ve all become familiar with the Canadian Blood Donor Association, an organization that meets the needs of those who need blood with those who have blood to give. Their slogan, “It’s in you to give,” has infiltrated our newspapers, television sets, and radios with pleas for Canadians to donate their own life force, and many of us do. But what would you think if someone said the same thing to you about breast milk?
Consider this: there are approximately 1000 premature babies born every year in Quebec, and 15 to 30 percent of mothers are unable to breastfeed for a variety of reasons. A breast milk clinic would help these babies to grow stronger and would reduce their risk of developing Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC), a gastrointestinal disease that affects most premature infants, which can cause diarrhea, feeding intolerance, temperature instability, and vomiting.
HEMA (a non profit organization that usually organize blood drives) has recently proposed the implementation of a breast milk clinic for premature babies in Quebec. The bank would be regulated by the government and would provide a milk pasteurization that has been shown to inactivate HIV, HTLV, HBV and HCV, and CMV, as well as markers for many other viruses. While this service would be primarily for premature babies in Quebec’s hospital system, HEMA plans to extend the service to all mothers who are having a difficult time breastfeeding or who need an alternative method of providing breast milk for their babies.
Breast milk sharing isn’t a new idea; wet nursing (when a nursing mother with more than enough milk provides milk for an infant that doesn’t have enough) was practiced extensively in centuries past – it was particularly popular with elites who would pay peasants to nurse their infants for them. However, the concept is gaining popularity once again. Eats on Feets, founded in 2010, is an Arizona-based service that provides wet nurses and other breast milk sharing options for mothers who need milk for their infant. Eats on Feets provides a database of donors and recipients all over the United States and has even begun branching into Canada, including Montreal.
While health officials have expressed some concern over the safety of sharing milk, mothers have expressed that it isn’t an issue. In fact, Eats on Feets provides a safe, comfortable, informed environment for mothers and families to learn about, and participate in, breast milk sharing. Donors meet with mothers where they can discuss detailed health history and blood work in order to come to a mutual agreement for both long- and short-term sharing, and proper screening can be done in order to reduce the risk of exposure to pathogens. If long-term health records cannot be confirmed, pasteurization is also available. Most milk-sharing mothers believe breast milk sharing isn’t so much a health issue as it is a personal liability issue, which is exactly why Eats on Feets provides such a thorough and informative service to its patrons.
The general public, however, seems to have mixed opinions about the service. While some mothers would love to have a service to help supplement their own milk production, others have hesitations about feeding their infants milk from a stranger. Mothers who have difficulty breastfeeding could have a much needed break from the stresses of breastfeeding complications, which can result in a more relaxed mother and a happier, healthier, and more relaxed baby. Others, while they may feel uncomfortable about the service, still support it. According to a study completed by Angus Reid, this ambivalence is common among Quebecers, with most people either being opposed to the idea or simply not understanding the need.
Regardless of your opinion on breast milk donation clinics, if there are people willing to donate and people looking to receive, then the service should be made available. After all, as women we should always have the right to choose.
by Allison Mason