News / Edmonton

Got (breast) milk? More opporunity to donate in Edmonton

The NorthernStar Mothers Milk Bank opens a second drop off point in Edmonton, making it easier for mothers to donate extra milk to sick babies

MJ and Stanley Hsu-Hung with their sons, Christopher and William.

Kevin Tuong/For Metro

MJ and Stanley Hsu-Hung with their sons, Christopher and William.

As the 11-month-old Hsu-Hung twins gurgle cheerfully in their parents laps, it’s hard to believe they were recently in the neonatal intensive care unit at Grey Nuns hospital, struggling to grow.

The pair were born six weeks early, and their mother — MJ — didn’t have enough breast milk to feed them right away.

“It was rough. I just wished that I could give it to them,” MJ said.

For MJ, that's where the NorthernStar Mothers Milk Bank came in.

The NorthernStar Bank, Canada’s only community-based milk bank, opened its second Edmonton drop site Thursday at the Lois Hole Hospital for Women.

The first site, at the Grey Nuns Hospital, opened in 2012.

Mothers who qualify as donors can drop off milk, which is pasteurized before being distributed to the sickest babies first.

That original site was important for MJ. While formula was an alternative, breastfeeding was important to her and her husband, Stanley, she said.

Luckily, under an agreement with the NorthernStar Bank, her sons (William and Christopher) were fed with donated breast milk for their first five days of life.

“I was extremely grateful to the woman — to the stranger — who gave milk to my babies,” she said.

Now MJ has moved from customer to depositor: Her milk eventually came in, and as soon as her twins started to wean off of it, she started pumping and storing extra milk to be distributed by the bank.

Janie Tyrell, AHS Executive Director for Women’s Health, said the organization is excited to expand the program.

“Scientific research supports that babies who receive donor milk become stronger and more resilient, reducing their time in hospital and reducing their likelihood of illness as children and adults.”
 
Started in Calgary about four years ago, the milk bank now has 11 drop sites across the prairie provinces and sends milk across Canada.

This year they estimate they’ll dispense more 1,000 gallons of donor milk.

Executive Director Jannette Festival said Edmonton has shown a need for donor milk, so they’re hoping to make it easier for local women to donate.

Last year Edmonton infants used 35 per cent of the bank’s milk donations; but, of the 650 mothers signed up last year, only 10 per cent were from here.

“We know they want to be involved, we just need to do a better job of getting the information out to them,” Festival said.