Women across southwestern Ontario are using social media to connect and then share breast milk.
The Facebook group Human Milk 4 Human Babies has more than 1,000 Likes on the website. There also are more than 100 ongoing discussions — many of them requests for breast milk — in the group's discussion forum.
Laura Gauthier, one of the group's administrators, said she only facilitates connections between users. It's up to them to do their own background checks.
Gauthier said the nature of social media gives people a chance to research potential donors.
"If a mom is on there looking for a donor, and has found someone who's made an offer, they have the ability — even before they even message them — to kind of poke around in their life a little bit and decide whether this person looks like someone I would trust."
Lindsay Logsdon of Windsor, Ont., has four kids, including a growing one-year-old. Logsdon not only breastfeeds her daughter, but also donates milk for other children, too.
Logsdon has always produced more breast milk than her children need. About a year ago, she started donating the excess through the Facebook group.
She said she's connected with two women, who, for various reasons, had trouble breastfeeding their own children.
"It has been really great to watch these babies grow and thrive and know that I've contributed in some way to their well-being," Logsdon said.
Moms unable to produce milk
Erin Samson is a new mother who has insufficient glandular tissue and can't produce enough breast milk for her daughter.
"I don't have enough milk glands to really produce more than about an ounce a day, and she needs 20-30 times that. So that's when we started supplementing with the donor milk," Samson said.
Samson said she was "completely devastated" when she learned she couldn't breastfeed.
"It's a very emotional time right after you've given birth. I had always wanted to breastfeed. It was just something I assumed I would be able to do," Samson said. "Breast milk, as any doctor and moms will tell you, will always be better than any type of formula, nutrition-wise. So that's why it was really upsetting that first month that I wasn't going to be able to produce enough."
Samson, who works at a chiropractic clinic, gets her milk from Gillian Slate, a patient at the clinic. So the two were already familiar with each other.
Slate also donates to Human Milk 4 Human Babies.
"I started donating with my first son. I was exclusively pumping and I had quite the oversupply. My freezer was filling up with frozen breast milk," Slate said.
She had a friend in need of milk, so she donated to her. That got Slate thinking there had to be other people needing breast milk, and her research led her to Human Milk 4 Human Babies.
"I made some contact with other mothers out there and started donating.”
Slate has helped six families through online connections. One travelled from Toronto to Windsor to spend some time with her and pick up frozen breast milk.
Health Canada warning
Health Canada, however, is concerned about unregulated sharing of unprocessed breast milk.
"Breastfeeding promotes optimal infant growth, health and development and is recognized internationally as the best method of feeding infants. However, unprocessed human milk should not be shared," Health Canada media relations officer Sara Lauer wrote in a statement to CBC News. "There is a potential risk that the milk may be contaminated with viruses such as HIV or bacteria, which can cause food poisoning.
"In addition, traces of substances such as prescription and non-prescription drugs can be transmitted through human milk."
Health Canada also said improper storage can cause the milk to spoil.
“I think the people that do this have babies' best interest at heart and wouldn't do anything to put any babies in harm, but, again, it's important to be diligent and do your research,” Slate said.
Human Milk 4 Human Babies member Heather Talmey said her children have received milk from more than 60 different donors.
“Women are just trying to help each other out,” said Margaret Deneau, who owns Sweetheart Baby Boutique in Windsor. “I think it’s wonderful that there is a place for you to get milk for your baby if you can’t produce it yourself.
“It makes me sad it has to be done privately. It would be nice if the region provided it and the moms didn’t have to go underground to do it.”
Currently, only medically fragile babies in Ontario have access to donated breast milk.
The Rogers Nixon Ontario Human Breast Milk Bank at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto collects donated breast milk from lactating women, pasteurizes it, and distributes it by prescription to babies in neonatal intensive care units across the province.
The breast milk bank's website is up and running and donations are being accepted. A spokesperson said delivery of milk has not yet started but will within weeks.