The World Health Organization states that banked human milk is the next best choice when the baby’s own mother’s milk is not available. This is especially true for preterm infants who are at high risk for illness and infection. Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a serious and life threatening bowel disease, is 10 times more common in preterm babies fed formula than those fed human milk. Mothers of preterm infants often struggle to develop and maintain a milk supply for their baby. Human milk contains antibodies that fight infections as well as growth hormones to help the baby grow and develop.
BC Women's Human Milk Bank in Vancouver accepts donated breastmilk
from approved, screened donors. The milk is pooled, pasteurized and available
for very small preterm infants in Neonatal Intensive Care Units or in
special cases for term ill infants.
A milk depot is a collection location for storage and shipping of milk
from approved, screened volunteer donors to the BC Women’s Human Milk Bank.
Currently, if a baby in Royal Inland Hospital needs supplementation the first choice is formula. Parents can request human milk, but the infant must meet certain requirements to get Donor Human Milk (DHM) from the BC Women’s Milk Bank. If the baby does not meet the requirements, the parents can choose to purchase the DHM from a Human Milk Bank with a surplus. Some parents are choosing to use unpasteurized, unscreened human milk. Some of this might be from friends or family members or purchased on the open market. There are some potential health risks associated with the use of unpasteurized human milk and a Milk Depot in Kamloops would help to make screened DHM available to babies in RIH.
While preterm infants are the first priority for HDM, other newborns often require more milk than their mother is producing at present and need to be supplemented: infants of diabetic mothers and infants with low blood sugars are just two examples.
BMIK’s long term goal is to support a process where screened HDM is the first choice for medical supplementation for any infant.
There is a strong history of milk sharing in Canada which was highlighted with the Dionne quintuplets in the 1930s. In the 1980s there were 8 Human Milk Banks across North America. All of them were closed, with the exception of BC Women’s Milk Bank in Vancouver, with the HIV/AIDs scare in the 1980s. Only recently have communities started up Human Milk Banks again and to date there are 23 Human Milk Banks in North America with 3 in Canada. Some countries have milk banks in every hospital- available not only for preterm and sick infants, but for any baby that needs supplementation until their own mother can produce enough milk. In Brazil, the postman picks up donor milk from donors in their home and transports it to a central depot.
There is a history of Milk Banking in Royal Inland Hospital. There are grandmothers who remember donating milk to Royal Inland Hospital in the 1970s. Firefighters picked up the milk to take to the hospital. The Donor milk was processed in the Diet Kitchen and tested by the Hospital Laboratory. We would love to talk to individuals who know this story, to find out when and why it started, when and why it stopped.
BMIK is working towards a Milk Depot in Kamloops. Donors would be screened and approved by the BC Women’s Milk Bank. They would deliver their frozen milk to the Kamloops Milk Depot site where it would be stored frozen until enough milk is collected to ship (100- 150 ounces). BC Women’s Milk Bank would process the milk and then HDM would be available for infants in RIH and shipped back free.
Currently, BMIK has presented a proposal to Interior Health, spoken with the local MLA, and are currently working with BC Women's Milk Bank. Progress has stalled and there seems to be little or no interest in moving this forward. There are specific requirements by the BC Milk Bank that must be met and these requirements are best done through the Regional Health Authority.