Island mothers offering breast milk to others in need

A group of Island mothers is trying to raise awareness about donating breast milk through the Facebook group Human Milk 4 Human Babies.

Health Canada says there are risks, but donors say they do their best to make sure it's safe

Karen Bernard feeds her seven-month-old baby Jillian. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

A group of Island mothers is trying to raise awareness about donating breast milk through the Facebook group Human Milk 4 Human Babies. 

At first, mom Karen Bernard struggled with breast feeding her daughter Jillian Larkin. When things got better, she wanted to make sure no other mother had to go through the same thing, so she decided to donate her breast milk through a post in the Facebook group.

Mom Karen Bernard decided to donate her breast milk after she had difficulty at first with breast feeding and didn't want to see other moms struggle too. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

"I know what it's like to struggle with breast feeding. I know the anxiety that it causes. Motherhood is stressful enough," said Bernard.

So far Bernard has given to two moms.

'Fantastic' feeling

"It was fantastic. I was on a literal high for probably three or four days. As soon as she left I made a Facebook post both to share my happiness and to raise awareness." 

While Health Canada says there are risks to sharing breast milk, some P.E.I. women say there is a need. (Submitted by Michelle Hughes)

Health PEI does not have a policy regarding breast milk donation, sharing or purchasing. It does recognize that the Canadian Paediatric Society does not endorse the sharing of unprocessed human breast milk. Also, Health Canada advises Canadians to be aware of the potential health risks associated with consuming human breast milk obtained through the internet or directly from individuals.

Bernard says she does her best to make sure everything is safe. 

Mom Stephanie McIsaac says it was a blessing to receive a donation of breast milk. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

"You yourself are alcohol free, medication free, tobacco free. That you're eating a healthy diet. That you're taking all the vitamins you need to take. There are blood tests to ensure that you're not passing any diseases on through your milk. And then there is home pasteurization process as well."

Breast milk donation a 'blessing'

Stephanie McIsaac says it's been a blessing to receive a donation through the group for her six-month-old daughter Ember Faith Waye-McIsaac.

"I got depressed and I was upset over the fact I wasn't producing enough for Ember so that's why I went about trying to find a donation," she said.

Michelle Hughes wants to raise awareness that there are P.E.I. moms donating their breast milk. (Submitted by Michelle Hughes)

McIsaac said she didn't have any concerns about using another mother's milk after having a few conversations with her donor about her about her health and lifestyle. 

"It was a weight off of my shoulders. I felt that I had done the right thing. Even, it wasn't mine, but it was still mother's milk."

Calling for a local milk bank

Michelle Hughes has also donated to a number of Island mothers. 

"I've found on Prince Edward Island there is a significant need and people are not aware that there is a possibility that milk sharing is a real thing on the Island, a real thing around the world. And so once I created an ad I actually had several mothers reach out to me saying 'Wow I had no idea that's a possibility and I think I would like to start  advertising my milk,'" Hughes said.

Courtney Massey is willing to donate her breast milk to mothers in need. (Submitted by Courtney Massey)

Hughes, McIsaac and Bernard want other moms to know they're not discouraging formula, but just letting parents know the group is an option. They'd also like to see a regulated milk bank on P.E.I. Health PEI says there are no plans in place to do that and it strongly encourages Island parents to speak with their pediatrician or health care provider if they have questions about breast feeding or are interested in donating, sharing or purchasing unpasteurized human breast milk.

Babies in need

Courtney Massey has a six-month-old son Dawson and would like to see a regulated milk bank on P.E.I. as well. She has also offered her milk online and hopes to find someone to donate to.

Parents are connecting through the Facebook group Human Milk 4 Human Babies about breast milk donations. (Krystalle Ramlakhan/CBC)

"I know that there's babies who need something like that," said Massey.

Island parents can get pasteurized breast milk from a Calgary bank, NorthernStar Mothers Milk Bank. While the group is non-proft, parents have to pay for shipping and delivery. P.E.I. mothers can donate to the NorthernStar Mothers Milk Bank, as well. 

About the Author

Krystalle Ramlakhan is a multi-platform journalist with CBC Ottawa. She has also worked for CBC in P.E.I., Winnipeg and Iqaluit.