Some call it the nectar of life and some have more than enough to share.
Well that’s the hope at least, as nursing mothers on the West Shore and across the region will be able to donate their breast milk to benefit other babies.
“Breast milk is the optimal choice for infant nutrition,” said Gillian Kozinka, manager of Victoria General Hospital perinatal and neonatal services, in a release. “This new program benefits the tiniest, sickest babies in need, and we are grateful to the moms who have extra to give.”
Last week VGH became an official Donor Milk Collection Depot for the B.C. Women’s Provincial Milk Bank, located at the B.C. Women’s Hospital in Vancouver. The VGH depot will store frozen milk and transport it to Vancouver, where it will be pasteurized and distributed to neonatal intensive care units across the province.
“We’re pretty excited,” said Erin O’Sullivan, Island Health regional perinatal program lead.
“There’s a spot for postpartum women to donate.” Before, she noted, women on the south Island would have to co-ordinate the donation process on their own, at their own cost.
While the hope is that moms will produce enough of their own milk, that’s not always the case, she said, and when babies are born prematurely sometimes mothers’ milk can take a while to come in. It is often these premature babies that receive donor milk.
When babies are born prematurely they are often at risk for a number of diseases. O’Sullivan noted necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) is a common serious intestinal disease among preemies.
“The evidence tells us that having breast milk helps prevent acquiring NEC.”
She added, “it helps the mom over time knowing her baby is protected.”
Since the Provincial Milk Bank was launched in 1974, it has processed 43,000 litres of milk and screened more than 4,000 donors. The VGH depot is the 18th drop-off location in the province, with the rest located on the mainland.
O’Sullivan said the first goal of the local depot is to promote awareness, not just of the facility itself, but of the importance of breastfeeding.
“Human milk can be donated and is a safe option for these babies and we can all do our part,” she said. It also helps normalize breast milk as the optimal form of delivering nutrients to newborns. While she noted that not all moms can breastfeed, the depot and provincial bank help make “breast milk an option for infants wherever possible.”
Women who have been pre-screened can drop off their raw, frozen breast milk at the depot for donation. VGH’s depot will be located in the Mother Babe Unit on the third floor and will be open to approved donors between 1 and 3 p.m. on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
“Nursing moms in Greater Victoria will be helping babies around the province by donating their extra milk to the provincial milk bank,” Health Minister Terry Lake said in a statement.
Typical donors are healthy women who are producing more milk than needed to feed their own babies. Bereaved mothers who have lost their infants may also choose to donate their extra milk. Donors are not paid and must also go through the Provincial Milk Bank’s pre-screening process before their milk will be accepted.
O’Sullivan noted this process is a “regulatory component for all milk banks in the world.”
If you are interested in becoming a donor, or would like to find out more, phone the Provincial Milk Bank at 604-875-3743 or go to bcwomens.ca and select the Our Services tab. The milk bank is listed under Labour, Birth and Post-Birth Care.