Donors needed for B.C. breast milk bank
Bhinder Sajan and Kendra Mangione, CTV Vancouver
Published Thursday, May 5, 2016 4:17PM PDT
Babies born with critical health needs get help from all kinds of professionals, but sometimes the help they need most comes from complete strangers.
Victoria mother Mieko Bond calls her son Liam a delightful gift, but in his short life, the baby has also had to be a fighter.
When Liam was born, he had some complications related to his Down syndrome, and had to be put in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). In the first three months of his life, he went to the Victoria General Hospital three times.
His mother also wasn't able to produce enough breast milk to feed him.
"Breast milk is the most healthy thing for babies, and because he was suffering from complications, I wanted to make him as healthy as possible," Bond told CTV News.
B.C. Women's Hospital runs a provincial milk bank program, which helps babies like little Liam.
"For NICU babies, it can truly be life or death," the bank's coordinator Frances Jones explained.
The hospital website says a mother's milk is always the first choice, but donor milk is the next best thing for newborns.
Breast milk provides tiny tots with antibodies they need to fight off disease and infection. The milk also contains growth hormones that help with early development.
Jones said mothers with extra milk are screened, and if they qualify, they can donate to depots across the province. Mothers who take medications regularly, have had alcohol in the last 12 hours, or have viruses like HIV are disqualified.
"The raw milk comes in and we put it in our big walk-in freezer," she said.
Each time a woman donates, a bottle from each batch is tested. After that, the milk is carefully pasteurized and then retested. Safety is a top priority because the donations will be sent to the province's most sickly and premature newborns. The milk is also given to babies whose mothers are too sick to breastfeed, or are on medications that could harm their children.
It is then sent to satellite depots, like the one Liam's mother used.
And Jones said that demand is high.
"We see some of the milk we received, but we also see lots of empty space," she said of the province's supply.
At times, the bank goes through 600 ounces a day. Last year, 3,000 babies were helped, but the goal is to get to 10,000. She said the bank is currently only servicing some of B.C.'s NICUs, but that they hope to be helping all of the province's NICUs in a matter of months.
"It made me able to sleep at night because I knew when I had to go home…that he was being fed properly," Bond said.
"So thank you."
With a report from CTV Vancouver's Bhinder Sajan