It’s called “liquid gold” for a reason.
Breast milk contains antibodies and other immune-boosting ingredients, is easy on a baby’s digestive system, and should give a baby all the nutrients it needs for about the first six months of its life.
It can also be a pain to extract, taking on average about 15 minutes to pump per session. So, moms who are able to produce enough liquid gold to keep some in storage don’t typically give it away unless another mom or baby is really in need of it.
Dozens of Vancouver-area moms who donated their breast milk to a woman who said she needed it for her child are fuming that she’s allegedly been selling it for profit.
The issue came to light when a mom in the Facebook group Human Milk For Human Babies - British Columbia claimed the woman tried to sell some of the group’s donated milk to her for $1 per ounce.
After investigating, the Facebook group, which is an open bulletin board for altruistic breast milk donations and requests followed by more than 3,400 people, banned the woman at the centre of the scandal, saying she admitted she did it.
WATCH: This donor has been pumping for four years straight. Story continues below.
One woman shared photos of texts she exchanged with the woman in question, which she alleges show the woman confessing and apologizing.
“She admits it was milk received for free through this page. We have banned her but that doesn’t stop her from PMing people. And once again we STRONGLY recommend never buying milk as you never know whose milk it is or if it is even breastmilk,” the admin post reads.
Several dozen women responded that they have donated breast milk to her in the last few years.
“I feel terrible. I have been donating my milk to her, around 80 bags of 6 oz each, it is about 480 oz!! I feel depressed now...,” one woman wrote on the Facebook post warning people to stop donating to her.
“I gave her a lot of my milk too. I worked so hard and spent so many long hours pumping that milk for MY babies but I was trying to be nice by sharing it with her for her child. I’m very upset and I feel violated!” another person commented.
“WTF!!!! I DONATED A LOT OF MILK TO HER!!! She was always asking and said that her son wouldn’t drink anything else!!!!” someone else wrote.
It’s illegal to sell unsafe breast milk for food: Health Canada
Breast milk donor groups such as Human Milk For Human Babies exist in communities worldwide.
But selling a food, such as breast milk, if it’s not safe for consumption is illegal, Health Canada told HuffPost Canada in an emailed statement.
“It is the responsibility of manufacturers and importers to comply with all applicable legislative and regulatory requirements in Canada. It is illegal to sell a food that is not safe for consumption,” a spokesperson said.
When sold for the purpose of food, donor breast milk is regulated under the Food and Drugs Act, Health Canada notes on its website.
RCMP won’t be pursuing criminal charges
Coquitlam RCMP did receive a complaint about the current breast milk case and looked into it, but will not be pursuing criminal charges of fraud against the woman who sold the donated breast milk, Cpl. Michael McLaughlin told HuffPost Canada in a phone interview.
In terms of whether selling it violated the Food and Drugs Act, that’s something the Canadian Food Inspection Agency would have to enforce, McLaughlin said. But the complaint doesn’t meet the standards fo charge approval for the criminal code because donating something through a Facebook group isn’t the same as donating through a registered charity.
“We understand how it can be morally offensive to re-sell something like donated breast milk, however it does not meet the threshold of a criminal offense, McLaughlin said.
“If you donate something, you’re giving up the right to determine what happens to that thing, and that’s why you must be very careful, whether you’re donating $10 to somebody sitting on a street corner saying they’re going to spend it on food, or whether you’re giving it to somebody who says they need the breast milk.”
Private breast milk donations are common, but not recommended
Donating breast milk is fairly common. Some women ask for breast milk because they’re undergoing chemotherapy, for instance, and others because their babies are premature and their milk didn’t have time to come in. Some simply aren’t able to produce enough.
Canada has four milk banks operating in Calgary, Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver, according to Health Canada. These banks have to follow strict procedures, and the milk is only available by prescription.
It’s mostly prioritized for high-risk infants in neonatal intensive care units, the agency adds.
“Therefore, many mothers have turned to private individuals or to the Internet to obtain milk, sometimes as part of a sharing program,” Health Canada explains on its website.
But the safety of this milk is “questionable.”
“These sources are not known to have undergone any form of oversight of the screening, processing, storage of (donor human milk) or medical history and screening of the donor.”
Buying breast milk is riskier than accepting donations
But there are steps you can take to mitigate the risks, including using a close friend or family member, staying in contact with the donor, and limiting the number of donors you use, Perinatal Services B.C. says in a practice resource.
It’s important to know a donor’s medical history and lifestyle, they explain. They also warn that when an individual person is selling breast milk, there is an increased risk that they might adulterate it by adding cow’s milk to increase their profit.
And these are concern shared by a number of moms in Human Milk For Human Babies.
“OMG I donated all my milk to her. I didn’t know this. I had such a hard time doing it and she even took all my expired milk hopefully she isn’t giving that away and saying it isn’t expired,” one mom wrote.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story stated that selling breast milk for food is not illegal. In fact, the sale and distribution of breast milk is regulated by Health Canada. This has been corrected.