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Donated human breast milk is prepared for use at the BC's Children's Hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia, Wednesday, December 29, 2010. This program is for women who are having trouble with breastfeeding and want their children to have access to safe breast milk.Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail

Quebec mothers who are unable to produce enough milk to feed their premature infants may soon have access to a shared breast milk bank.

Héma-Québec, the province's blood bank, is studying the benefits and risks of opening a facility for milk, with the results due this spring.

"Such a bank would, among other things, contribute to the survival of premature babies," according to a release from the non-profit organization.

The facility would be the second of its kind in Canada, after the BC Women's Milk Bank in Vancouver.

Another milk bank is in the works for Toronto, according to the Canadian Medical Association Journal, this one a joint project shared between Sunnybrook Hospital, Mount Sinai Hospital and the Hospital for Sick Children.

The Canadian Paediatric Society has pushed for more milk banks and research has shown that breast milk boosts babies' immune systems and helps prevent respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses.

Many of those agitating for the banks say women are turning to the Internet for breast milk, where donors aren't screened and the milk goes unprocessed. Health Canada cautioned against buying breast milk online or directly from other people last November.

"There is a potential risk that the milk may be contaminated with viruses such as HIV or bacteria which can cause food poisoning, such as Staphylococcus aureus," Health Canada said in its warning.

"In addition, traces of substances such as prescription and non-prescription drugs can be transmitted through human milk. Improper hygiene when extracting the milk, as well as improper storage and handling, could also cause the milk to spoil or be contaminated with bacteria and/or viruses that may cause illness," the warning continued.

Officials at Héma-Québec say the organization is "already well equipped to collect, test, store and distribute blood products, stem cells and human tissues throughout the province."

Are milk banks a good way to get breast milk to more babies?

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