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Fraser Health appeals for breast milk after unexplained drop in donations

Give your breast milk and save newborn lives, the health authority is encouraging mothers
Audrey Inouye (right) with her two sons Kiyoshi McMillan (left) and Kaito McMillian drop off her milk to hospital volunteer Sylvia Hendel at a human milk depot on October 11, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

It’s a life-saving treatment for B.C. babies born premature and Fraser Health has seen a drop in its donated supply.

“For newborns, breast milk as a medical intervention,” said Lucy Dominak, a registered nurse and project lead of the Baby Friendly Initiative.

“When mothers don’t have enough milk for their own babies, using another mother’s is the second-best option.”

For those younger than 35 weeks old, just one drop of human breast milk can deliver thousands of anti-microbial agents to their stomach.

This is especially important for newborns fighting for their lives with diseases such as necrotizing enterocolitis, said Dominak.

“It builds a protective layer of immunity until the baby can mount their own.”

Within the Fraser Health region, there are 17 drop-off depots that send donations to a provincial bank that distributes the milk to babies in neonatal intensive care units across the province.

As part of B.C. Women’s Hospital in Vancouver, the provincial milk bank has fed tens of thousands of babies in the past 47 years.

READ ALSO: Local mom makes huge donations of breast milk

However, just this past year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, donations in Fraser Health have declined by 13 per cent with around 50,000 ounces being collected compared to the 57,000 ounces given in 2019.

Breast-milk donations in the Fraser Health region have historically supplied 70 per cent of the province’s donated mother’s milk.

“The drop is concerning,” Dominak said. “If the accumulated provincial supply of breast milk gets low we are forced to cut off babies in prenatal units who are less sick.”

Considering the milk provides newborn children the fighting chance at a better life, the health authority is asking new mothers to consider donating their milk to a baby they might never meet but could help save the life of.

“It is essential,” Dominak said. Donating could be as simple as pumping an extra bottle, or 5 ounces of milk, per day.

“It adds up really quickly.”

Those who are interested in giving will need to undergo a screening process that includes a health questionnaire, phone interview, meeting with a doctor and a blood test.

Once approved, they can schedule a contactless drop-off of their milk with any depot in Fraser Health.

RELATED: Breast milk bank keeps B.C. babies healthy2

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