Despite health risks, some buy breast milk online
WINNIPEG - Some women are still trying to sell their breast milk online despite concerns from Health Canada about possible disease transmission and contamination.
One new mother in Winnipeg, who recently had to retract an online ad for her milk, says it is the only way to ensure that her surplus breast milk can get to babies who need it.
"Everyone knows that breast milk is best (for infants) ... so I figured that if someone else could use it, by all means I would be willing to sell it or potentially give it away," said Sara Wiens, who gave birth to her son Simon last October.
Simon was born with Down syndrome. His slow muscle development makes it hard for him to swallow, so doctors urged Wiens to pump her milk so that it could be tube-fed to Simon. Wiens later discovered that Simon had an allergy to the protein in cow's milk and stopped eating dairy products herself, but that meant the breast milk she had already pumped could not be given to her son.
Wiens put a classified ad on the Kijiji website, seeking up to $500 for three-months' worth of milk, but was told earlier this month to pull the ad because Kijiji forbids sales of bodily fluids.
Wiens is not alone. A quick scan of Kijiji this week turned up a similar ad from someone in Toronto seeking $2 an ounce for her milk, and another in Ottawa asking for $3 an ounce. There are other international websites, such as Onlythebreast.com, that have message boards dedicated to matching breast milk donors with potential buyers.
Many of the sellers say they are producing more milk than their children need, while many buyers are mothers who cannot produce enough milk on their own and who don't want to use formula.
The federal government has a long-standing position of "not recommending" private sales of human breast milk. Viruses, such as HIV, and bacteria can be transmitted through breast milk, as well as traces of prescription and non-prescription drugs, Health Canada says.
And there are other risks.
"Improper hygiene when extracting the milk, as well as improper storage and handling, could also cause these products to spoil or be contaminated," Philippe Laroche, a Health Canada spokesman, said in an email this week.
Women in British Columbia have another option. The B.C. Women's Milk Bank, the only facility of its kind in Canada, screens donor mothers for HIV, hepatitis and other diseases and pasteurizes donated milk. People who want to receive the donated milk require a doctor's prescription.
Wiens believes similar banks should be available in other cities.
"If every major city could have something like that, then all the preemies in the hospital could benefit from that," she said. "Babies can use it."
In the meantime, Wiens said she's willing to undergo blood tests and provide character references to potential buyers.
"If people are trusting of me and of my milk, than by all means (the sale) should be between me and them."