A Quebec group is mulling the creation of a breast-milk bank - which would become the country's second - as more mothers unable to produce milk turn to the Internet to access it.
Health Canada has called the online practice unsafe, warning the milk may not have been properly processed and the medical history of its source is unknown.
But one Montreal mother, who spearheaded a breast-milk-sharing Facebook movement, said women often have no other choice, with Canada's only full-fledged breast-milk bank in Vancouver.
Emma Kwasnica, whose milk-sharing movement has quickly expanded to 120 chapters in 38 countries, said there is a big demand from women who can't produce milk themselves, women who are often mothers of premature babies.
She said demand is fuelled by a body of research that indicates breast milk boosts infants' immune systems, helping to prevent respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses.
"There is far less risk in using species-specific milk versus powder," she said. "I think we have really good solid evidence about the risks of formula."
Now, Héma-Québec, the province's blood bank, is exploring the possibility of opening a breast-milk bank to meet the demand.
The group has been researching the issue for the past several months.
"The response has been near-unanimously positive," Marc Germain, vice-president of the non-profit, said of consultations with stakeholders.
Héma-Québec's report is expected shortly, and after that the provincial government will decide whether to give the project the green light.
To start, the milk bank would likely only be available to mothers of premature babies, among whom the need is greatest and the benefits of breast milk are most clearly documented.
But Mr. Germain didn't rule out the possibility of expanding the service to others in need once it's up and running.
He said there is "a buzz these days" in the health field about the merits of a breast-milk bank.
The Canadian Paediatric Society, for instance, recently called for the creation of more breast-milk banks to help treat sick newborns, saying the one in Vancouver isn't sufficient.
The group said only about half the mothers of sick newborns are able to produce an adequate milk supply, either because they are sick themselves or due to the stress of the situation.
Like Health Canada, however, it has warned against sharing breast milk that hasn't been screened and treated by a health professional.
According to Statistics Canada, in 2009, nearly 88 per cent of women who had given birth in the past five years breastfed their most recent baby, even if only for a short time.
That's up from about 25 per cent in the mid-1960s.
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