Breast milk donations in Fort Mcmurray help save lives of babies across the province.
When Lyndsey Gill’s newborn daughter, Olivia, couldn’t take her breast milk because it upset her stomach, Gill didn’t want the milk her body was producing to be wasted.
Hoping her daughter would be able to drink the milk eventually, Gill continued pumping, but later decided to donate the milk to the Northernstar Mothers Milk Bank in Calgary.
“My sisters are preemie babies and they were in the hospital,” said Gill. “Just thinking about them and other moms and stuff it just made me want to donate what I had so that I could help them.”
The donated milk helps fragile babies and those born prematurely. Because their bodies haven’t fully developed yet, putting a foreign substance like formula in the body can cause a negative reaction, developing infections and the possibility of surgery.
“We know if these babies can get donor human milk, if mom’s own milk isn’t available, the chance of that occurring is reduced by about 70 per cent,” said Jannette Festival, director of Northernstar Mothers Milk Bank. “It’s really significant in the health of these fragile babies.”
The Northernstar Mothers Milk Bank delivers milk to all intensive care units in Alberta, as well as to some institutions in other provinces, including Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
In Fort Mcmurray, a milk bank at the Public Health building allows for local donations. Jennifer Splaine, AHS Public Health Area Manager for Fort Mcmurray, said having the service available was an easy decision to make.
“In 2012, Public Health started out on our journey to becoming a baby friendly health clinic. Part of that is to protect, promote and support mothers who are breastfeeding,” she said. “It’s an easy program for us to support and well worth it in terms of health outcomes for babies in Alberta.”
Festival said she continues to see a demand for the service. When they first opened in 2012, the organization dispensed just over 887 litres of milk. This year, they are expecting that number to be approximately 5,000 litres.
Fort Mcmurray has been a particularly successful donor bank, said Festival. In the two years it’s been open, they have had 20 to 25 mothers donating an average of 15 litres, shipping in total approximately 145 litres. Most babies only need 10 to 20 millilitres every two hours.
Splaine says the number of young people who have arrived in Fort Mcmurray and started families makes it a strong donor base for the organization.
“We’re a young community with lots of breastfeeding families,” she said. “It just makes sense for us to be able to have an opportunity to donate to babies in Alberta who are really sick and in need of human milk.”
Like Gill, many women may not be able to breast feed their own children for a variety of reason. In some instances, Splaine said, she has heard stories of women who have had a stillbirth or a baby pass away, but still want to honour that life.
“There’s lots of different reasons why moms donate,” she said. “It’s just really special for us to be able to have a site here to make it convenient for moms to get involved.”
To be a donor, mothers must have excess milk and their baby must be under a year old. A screening process involving verbal conversations, forms signed by their doctor, a questionnaire and blood requisition is required, said Festival.
The milk will remain good for a year as long as it is kept at -20 C.
Gill was able to donate regular and dairy-free milk to the milk bank in Fort Mcmurray.
Gill said she was happy to see her milk going to babies in need, especially the dairy-free milk she was able to donate.
“There was actually a baby in need of it right away,” she said.
Calgary Mother's Milk Bank executive director Jannette Festival holds a tray of pasteurized breast milk in front of a fridge full of bags of the raw product Friday April 27, 2012.