Kelowna, Kamloops get depots for lactating mothers to donate their milk

Andrea Chong and Nathan Fretz at B.C. Women’s Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit. Their twin boys were born prematurely, at 32 weeks, on Oct. 4.

Jason Payne / PNG

It’s referred to as the milk of human kindness and now there are two depots in the Interior for donors to drop off their supply.

“There are so many reasons why people might want donor milk,” said new mom Andrea Chong.

Some moms don’t produce milk right away, or they produce milk but not enough.

In Chong’s case, her twin sons were born prematurely, weighing in at three pounds 10 ounces, and three pounds four ounces. For the first two days after their Oct. 4 birth, the boys received a mix of her milk and a donor’s, until the East Van mom could get up to speed.

“I’ll need about a litre of milk a day for the two of them,” Chong said.

The boys are in incubators inside the B.C. Women’s Hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit, milk dripping into their tummies every two hours.

“They lost weight at first, as expected, and they’re not back to their birth weight yet, but they’ve started to grow, they’ve turned that corner,” Chong said.

Chong and her husband, Nathan Fretz, feel grateful such services exist.

Until now, donors in Kelowna and Kamloops would freeze their milk and organize milk runs two or three times a year to deliver the supply to B.C. Women’s to be processed.

The new depots — which join 26 others in the Lower Mainland, the Island and one in Prince George — save donors a lot of time and energy, said Stephanie Gillespie, an international board-certified lactation consultant at B.C. Women’s.

“This could mean more donors and it makes it easier for donors to get their milk to us,” she said. “One barrier in the past was if you lived in the Okanagan, how did you get your milk to us.”

Donors are screened by B.C. Women’s and the depots offer a spot to drop off raw, frozen milk. Once it’s delivered to B.C. Women’s, it’s pasteurized and made available to the most fragile babies throughout the province.

According to research, mother’s milk has several health-promoting properties including antibodies to fight infection and disease, Gillespie said. Mom’s milk is best for all babies, and especially important for sick and premature babies, such as Chong’s and Fretz’s sons, who look so tiny and helpless and adorable.

“It’s a special place to work and see these little miracles all the time,” Gillespie said. “We’re so appreciative to all the donors for the time and energy it takes.”

The B.C. Women’s Provincial Milk Bank has been operating for 45 years and has helped tens of thousands of babies and children, according to B.C. Women’s, and has screened more than 6,500 donors and processed 60,000 litres of milk.

The Kamloops depot is at the Health Unit at 519 Columbia St. In Kelowna, it’s at the Community Health Centre at 505 Doyle Ave.

Donors must complete the Provincial Milk Bank’s pre-screening process before they can donate. Screening involves a phone interview to confirm the volunteer is healthy, not taking certain medications or supplements, and be willing to have blood testing done.

Many past recipients of donated mother’s milk become donors themselves, Gillespie said.

“It’s a real act of kindness. We sometimes refer to it as the milk of human kindness.

“I can’t say enough about our donors.”

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