December 27, 2016 10:23 am
Updated: December 28, 2016 12:22 pm

Quebec’s breast milk bank needs donors due to growing demand

WATCH ABOVE: Close to 500 new mothers have signed up with Héma-Quebec’s breast milk bank in the last 18 months, but it's a far cry from what's needed to supply the growing demand. Global's Anne Leclair reports.

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Quebec’s blood donor service Héma-Quebec adopted a new mandate in April 2014 to create the first-ever public breast milk bank in the province.

Before, new mothers-in-need were forced to turn to private, unregulated breast milk banks – sometimes as far as across the country.

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Close to 500 new mothers have signed up to give the gift of life in the last 18 months, but it’s a far cry from what’s needed to supply the growing demand.

“This milk is used for a really specific clientele,” said Vanessa Jourdain from Héma-Quebec.

“It’s for premature babies who were born 32 weeks or less and whose mother cannot breastfeed them.”

Katie Hewitt, one of 500 donors, had a tough time breastfeeding her first born son in 2013.

She quickly discovered she was able to pump and bottle feed and produced more than enough breast milk for one child, so she decided to share.

“I gave privately through Montreal Milk Share to a mother who had been in a car accident and who was unable to feed her premature baby,” said Hewitt.

She found the experience to be rewarding so she decided to repeat it when her second son was born eight months ago.

By that time, Héma-Quebec had created its new public program, which made it safe and easy.

“The nice thing about giving to Héma-Quebec is you know it’s going to be regulated and that it’s gonna be safe for the premature infants,” said Hewitt, a registered nurse.

“That’s really important, I think. It’s not just from anybody and there are no liability issues.”

Héma-Quebec runs the only public breast milk bank in the province.

At first, strict criteria made it tough to recruit donors.

In June, the milk bank changed the rules so all healthy mothers in the greater Montreal and Quebec City regions were eligible to donate.

The short-term goal is to recruit 300 more mothers in order to meet the province’s growing demand.

“Our objective is to have 500 mothers on a yearly basis, so we’re increasing our recruitment,” said Jourdain.

Currently, the low supply is only enough to feed babies born at 29 weeks and younger, which is why Héma-Quebec is calling on all new mothers to donate.

“They are giving basically the gift of life to small babies,” said Jourdain.

Donating mothers have to be healthy, non-smokers and have a baby under the age of one, when the nutritional properties of breast milk are at their highest.

Hewitt works in the intensive care unit at the Lakeshore General Hospital and has seen first hand how babies thrive.

“I guess because I am a nurse, from a medical stand point I understand what can happen to premature infants who don’t receive breast milk: how they can have bowel necrosis and other serious issues,” said the 35-year-old mother of two.

Hewitt has given an estimated 33,000 ml of milk in the last eight months alone.

She’s had to put her donations on hold for now to keep up with her son’s demand, but she hopes to give again before little Andrew turns one.

“To know that you can make a difference in those babies lives and in the lives of those mothers and families, just that they have a chance it’s really worth it, it’s a good feeling,” she told Global News.

© 2016 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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