Parents and infants in communities across British Columbia and Canada kicked off the 2016 World Breastfeeding Week on Saturday with a plethora of events – including a breastfeeding challenge.

Families gathered at locations such as Vancouver’s Kitsilano Neighbourhood House to take part in the challenge, aiming to “have the most children breastfeeding at one time, in one place.”

“We’ve come a long way, and it’s completely normal now to see moms breastfeeding at the park on a bench, but people do still face a lot of adversity breastfeeding in public and a lot of parents do feel uncomfortable being seen,” said Natasha Burnham, a public health nurse with Vancouver Coastal Health.

“We still have a ways to go, and that’s why events like this are great to get that awareness out there and support families that have chosen to breastfeed their infants.”

World Breastfeeding Week is an annual event put on by the World Health Organization and UNICEF, Burnham explained, celebrating healthy babies and promoting public acceptance of breastfeeding as a normal, natural part of child-rearing.

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.

New moms who wish to breastfeed sometimes encounter challenges, Burnham adds, noting that resources are available for women needing a bit of extra help. 

Donors needed for B.C. breast milk bank

This year, Vancouver Coastal Health is also raising awareness about the B.C. Women’s Provincial Milk Bank.

Four new donation depots were recently added across the Lower Mainland, making it easier than ever for B.C. women to donate extra breast milk for babies who need it the most.

Most of the milk is given to sick or very tiny babies in neonatal intensive care units, the program’s website reads, noting a mother's milk is always the first choice, but donor milk is the next best thing for newborns.

Donors needed for B.C. breast milk bank program

Potential milk donors are screened, then milk is collected, pasteurized, and distributed to hospitals across B.C.

More than 4,000 donors have been screened since the bank’s inception in 1974, and more than 43,000 litres of milk have been processed.  

New locations are the Squamish Community Centre, Raven Song Community Health Centre, West Vancouver Community Health Centre, and Richmond Public Health. A fifth location, Evergreen Community Health Centre, is set to open this fall.

“There are lots of reasons why parents aren’t able to breastfeed and the milk bank does provide that option for families to get the benefit of breast milk,” said Burnham. “We’re always looking for more donations… there’s a big need right now.”

Interested in donating your milk or learning more about the program? Visit the BC Women’s Provincial Milk Bank here.