Fraser Health encourages more new moms to donate breast milk

Breast-milk donations in the health region have decreased during the pandemic, while increasing elsewhere in B.C.

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A newborn baby has only three demands, a famous British obstetrician once said: Warmth in the arms of her mother, food from her breasts, and security in the knowledge of her presence.

Breastfeeding satisfies all three, he concluded.

But not all mothers are able to breastfeed or they may be able to but not able to provide enough milk, and thus their babies rely on donors.

“Mom’s own milk is the absolute best food for babies, there’s nothing better,” Lucy Dominak, a registered nurse and project lead for the Baby Friendly Initiative, said. “But if a mom doesn’t have enough, then pasteurized human milk is the second-best choice.”

Donor milk, with its powerful anti-infection properties, helps babies heal after surgery, and it feeds premature babies and babies born with life-threatening diseases such as necrotizing enterocolitis.

It’s the only species-specific food we have for human babies, Dominak pointed out.


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“Donor milk is literally a life-saving invention.”

For reasons that are unclear, however, breast-milk donations in the Fraser Health region – which historically has supplied 70 per cent of the province’s donated mother’s milk – have dropped by 14 per cent, while other health authorities have had increases.

Jyoti Jha would like you to know it’s safe and simple to donate.

The software engineer and mother of a 22-month-old was motivated to become a regular donor after a close family member’s baby was born prematurely. Jha’s donated milk helped treat babies with infections, digestion problems, allergies, burns, kidney and heart problems, and preterm babies.

She counts herself privileged and grateful to have helped other parents and their babies in a time of need.

“I started collecting milk for my own baby each and every day, and I realized I didn’t need it all,” Jha said. “One litre of milk basically saves one child.”

The provincial milk bank, which is part of B.C. Women’s Hospital, has been operating for 47 years and has fed tens of thousands of babies and children.

In 2019-2020, donors in the Fraser Health region provided about 50,000 ounces of milk, down from 57,000 ounces in 2018-2019, and well below a record 71,000 ounces in 2017.

Becoming a donor includes screening: A health questionnaire, phone interview, consultation with a family physician, and a blood test.

All 17 Fraser Health units are also milk drop-off depots, so any approved donor can do a drop-off with just a phone call to arrange it.


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Since the pandemic began, dropping off has become contactless: A staff member meets the donor, who holds up photo ID to their vehicle window – it doesn’t even have to be rolled down – and then once identification has been verified, the donor pops the trunk, staff retrieve the milk and shut the trunks.

“I wouldn’t say it’s really easy,” Jha said, “but so many moms are working and already collecting milk for future use, so if they could pump a little extra to save a baby … it gets easier.”

And, she added, it’s a special honour because it’s a service more than half the population is unable to provide, either because they’re men or are unable to for health or physical reasons.

“Only once or twice in your lifetime you get that chance, so I would say if you can, please donate.”


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