More than two decades after fears of HIV transmission forced the closure of all but one of Canada’s 23 milk banks, regulators, medical professionals and mothers remain divided on the safety of sharing breast milk.
Increased public pressure, regulatory oversight and evidence of the efficacy of modern screening and pasteurization processes are speeding efforts across the country to reopen milk banks to serve hospitalized babies — paradoxically at the same time health officials are warning mothers against the dangers of informally sharing their breast milk.
Confounding the debate is the Janus-like nature of the milk itself. Today, breast milk’s nutritional merits as a food are difficult to separate from its “ick” factor as a body fluid capable of transmitting disease, says Dr. Sharon Unger, a neonatologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, and professor of pediatrics at the University of Toronto.
Up until the AIDS crisis hit Canada in the 1980s, human breast milk was more valued for its antibiotic properties than feared for its infectious potential, says Maureen Fjeld, a Calgary-based lactation consultant who witnessed the rise and fall of Alberta’s milk banks.
While health officials offered many justifications for the closures — among them, that women had access to electric breast pumps and therefore didn’t need the banks — “the reality was they were scared of infecting someone as the blood banks had done,” says Fjeld.
The BC Women’s Milk Bank in Vancouver, British Columbia, was the sole survivor of the closures, and today carefully rations its supply to only the most vulnerable hospitalized babies. Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, ships donor milk from the United States to feed its sick and premature babies. Other hospitals and mothers have no choice but to rely on formula when natural sources of breast milk run dry.
Yes, Dr. Sharon Unger is speaking up again. Apparently the fact that Eats on Feets very own Emma Kwasnica has verbally bested her in her own area of expertise in front thousands of people on CBC Radio show The Current has not diminished her lust for punishment, nor her insatiable appetite for spreading false truths and making up pretend facts on a whim. Unger is back with more of her ridiculous diatribe that, along with Health Canada's own brand of chauvinist misogyny, suggests that women are fools, incapable of monitoring their own health or making informed choices.
Let me take you on a tour of this article- I'll probably break off now and then to rant a bit, I hope you don't mind.
After giving the history of the closures of the Canadian Milk Banks in the 80's the article goes on to wax eloquently about the newly published idea that Canada needs Milk Banks- yes applause applause... of course the fact that the provincial breastfeeding associations, INFACT canada, Dr. Jack Newman, and every group that is focused on breastfeeding, and the general public has been screaming for years that we need Breastmilk banks is never mentioned. Unger then goes on to graciously tell the reader about the wonders of Milk Banks- about the fact that “Association banks dispense more than one and a half billion ounces of human milk every year and they’ve never had a case of disease transmission,” says Unger..... of course then she drops the hidden bomb:
“All our ducks are in a line, as far as safety goes. The next thing I think governments are looking for is the long-term health outcomes and cost savings of reopening the banks.”Because formula companies provide their products to hospitals for free, public funding for milk banks requires proof that there are health benefits and costs efficiencies to be achieved from using donor milk, says Unger.
To that end, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research have funded a team of Toronto neonatal experts to conduct a five-year study of the health and financial impacts of donor milk compared to preterm infant formula as a substitute for mother’s own milk for very low birth weight infants. Initial findings are expected within two years, says Unger.
Did you spot it? The hidden agenda? The feet dragging excuse to burn more of the taxpayers money? So because they're getting formula for free, they feel the need to "PROVE" that Breastmilk is better and worth the "COST" of creating breastmilk Banks?!? So they are taking 5 years,(meaning another two years from now) to study something, (and spending probably millions of dollars on) that has already been PROVEN a hundred times over and over!!!! Thank you Canadian Government for wasting the our money. No doubt they could of funded the opening of at least one breastmilk bank with the money they spent on a useless study that's already been done by WHO, UNICEF and several major medical associations. Not only that, but they are putting the health of fragile infants in jeopardy while they twiddle their thumbs (while no doubt looking for a way to make a profit off the generous donations of mothers who just want to help babies)( I'm just sayin', if the shoe fits...?)
That’s too long for mothers who are worried about health risks associated with recent recalls of infant formula. Many now turn to their peers for milk when their own supplies run low — a practice regulators and health professionals such as Unger call “dangerous.”The harbingers of doom then go onto point out the terrible dangers that are imminently awaiting every mother that feeds her baby donated breastmilk:
Informal breast milk exchanges have exploded online, linking women from around the world. One such group, called Eats on Feets,(YAY EOF!) has become the world’s largest human milk sharing network, with some 87 regional chapters in 18 countries. Each chapter connects hundreds of mothers through the social networking site Facebook.
Led by Montreal, Quebec-based mother and breastfeeding advocate Emma Kwasnica, it claims to serve women that milk banks “won’t touch” because their babies are too healthy.
“Whether it’s for cultural reasons and they just don’t understand how to breastfeed, because so few of us do anymore, or it’s a physical condition or stress that’s preventing them from bringing in a full supply, these women have no other option,” Kwasnica says. “At first, people are grossed out, but turning to other women is not so hard to understand. After all, we’ve been wet nursing since the beginning of time.”
The potential to thus expose children to viruses, bacteria and traces of prescription and nonprescription drugs has prompted Health Canada and the United States Food and Drug Administration to release warnings against both voluntary and paid exchanges (www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ahc-asc/media/advisories-avis/_2010/2010_202-eng.php and www.fda.gov/ScienceResearch/SpecialTopics/PediatricTherapeuticsResearch/ucm235203.htm).
But lets talk about these potential risks. The big viruses that seem to worry Health Canada are HIV, HTLV, Hepatitis B&C, and Syphilis. First off Hep B&C do NOT pass through breastmilk and neither does Syphilis. and Flash Heating done at home (As Emma Kwasnica goes on later in the article to discuss) on your own stove destroys both HIV & HTLV viruses. So the risk is practically 0. Ok how about bacteria? Health Canada seems to think that women do not know how to pump or express their milk in a clean and safe manner. HC warns against donated milk because bacteria that might get into milk that's pumped/expressed and then stored in a fridge or freezer. Yet thousands of women in our country pump and express milk for their own babies daily....why is this milk safe for their baby but not for someone elses baby? If Health Canada is so worried about unsafe pumping then why are they not putting together information for the public about the safe methods of pumping/expressing and the storing of breastmilk?
This next bit really gets me steamed:
Some mothers may not know they’ve picked up an infection post-screening, she (Unger) says. “What if a woman has a cold sore or herpes lesion on her breast? She may not be aware of it, but such a virus can be fatal to newborns. Why would you take that risk?”Really? REALLY?! Does Unger think that women are so ridiculously stupid that they can't be responsible for their own health and making informed decisions based on their health? What mother is going to give infected milk to a baby? What mother is going to pump milk with an open infectious sore on her breast?! Does Unger really have that low of an opinion of her own sex? Apparently Unger and Health Canada believe that women don't give a shit about what they feed their babies and couldn't care a less about keeping them healthy. Apparently the fact that women are choosing to feeding their babies donated breastmilk instead of infant formula BECAUSE they have informed themselves of the RISKS is beyond the comprehension of them both.
Yes, Risks. Let's talk about the risks of feeding Infant formula.
Kwasnica counters that formula feeding may be just as risky, if not more so. “These babies are getting constipated and sick. They’re pooing out blood and not gaining weight. We know formula rips up the insides of their intestines and opens their guts up to pathogens. We know it’s been linked to diabetes, respiratory illness, gastrointestinal illness and heart disease, to name a few. We’ve got to talk about relative risk, and not consider it lightly, before freaking out about sharing breast milk.”“Sharing unprocessed breast milk is dangerous."- Really? Prove it. Show me a study that's been done that proves that unprocessed breastmilk is dangerous to babies- a study that has been done with babies that have been fed unprocessed human milk.
Health Canada has already weighed the relative risk, says Unger. “Sharing unprocessed breast milk is dangerous. There’s a reason infant mortality has dropped, and a lot of it has to do with current public health practices. I have faith in those practices, and for all formula may not be as good as mother’s own milk, it is safe.”
"There’s a reason infant mortality has dropped, and a lot of it has to do with current public health practices." Ummmm explain to me how the drop in infant mortality has anything to do with milk sharing? Infant mortality has dropped due to better medicine and medical technology and better hygiene in hospitals and homes.
"...for all formula may not be as good as mother’s own milk, it is safe.” REALLY? Would you care to put your money where your mouth is Unger? I'd like to see you prove that- Prove it. Show me the studies that PROVE that Formula is "Safe". Show me the studies that PROVE that Milk sharing carries more risk than formula. PROVE IT.... We want studies. We want facts. If you can't provide them then shut the hell up.
Health Canada needs to address the sharing of breastmilk with full disclosure and full transparency. Health Canada needs to Ratify the World Health Organizations Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding- just as they say that they do on their Health Canada Web site. The WHO hierarchy of infant feeding states that commercial infant breastmilk substitutes are ranked fourth:
1-breastfeeding from the baby's mother,
2-breastmilk pumped by the mother and fed by cup,
3-Breastmilk from a wetnurse or milk bank
Someone needs to tell HC that there is no difference between wet nursing and using unprocessed donated breastmilk.
I have been a part of Eats on Feets since the very beginning, and have worked to help mothers find breastmilk for their babies long before that. I have witnessed dozens if not hundreds of milksharings happen online. I've read the stories of mothers who are desperately in need of human milk for their babies meet mothers who have milk to spare. I've heard the amazing stories of babies who were once sickly little waifs who've blossomed into chubby cherubic jolly infants due to the fact that their mothers cared so much that they went and found someone to donate breastmilk to them. I have seen friendships grow between strangers and watched bonds of sisterhood bloom between mothers who didn't know each other a mere few weeks before. This isn't about women being uninformed. This is about women doing what they need to do, with full disclosure and full awareness of the facts. This is about INFORMED Sharing. This is about women taking responsibility for their families health, taking matters into their own hands and doing what needs to be done to keep their babies healthy and happy and chemical free. The way it should be.