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Pasteurized Human Donor Milk: An Alternative To Mother’s Own Milk For Fragile Newborns

Pasteurized Human Donor Milk: An Alternative To Mother’s Own Milk For Fragile Newborns

Each year, about 150 very low birth weight (<1500g) premature infants are born at The Ottawa Hospital. Giving birth prematurely and having an infant (or two or three) in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is extremely stressful for mothers and fathers. Evidence shows that expressed breast milk is the ideal food for those fragile infants, as it provides antibodies and other substances that protect the fragile gut from infections and inflammation. However, many mothers struggle to provide their milk, due to pregnancy-related health issues, stress, and anxiety over their baby’s health.

Up until 2010, the alternative to mother’s own milk at The Ottawa Hospital was preterm formula. Although preterm formula is made specifically for premature infants, it lacks antibodies and other substances only found in breast milk and is not as ideally suited for premature infants as their mother’s milk. Since March 2010, we have been purchasing pasteurized human donor milk from an Accredited Human Donor Milk Bank in Ohio for our most fragile infants, to either supplement mother’s own milk until she can produce enough or as an alternative to mother’s own milk when this is not an option. Several NICUs in Ontario currently purchase milk from this bank, as none is available in Ontario.

In 2013, Ontario will see the birth of its first pasteurized human donor milk bank in Toronto. This bank, which will be a non-for-profit organisation, will aim to supply pasteurized human donor milk to all eligible infants in Ontario. The Ottawa Hospital will purchase such milk for very premature infants and infants with congenital bowel disorders, to facilitate their feeding and their growth. This milk bank will accept, under strict conditions, breast milk donations from Ontarian mothers who have more milk than needed to feed their baby (ies). We look forward to this human donor milk bank!


Brigitte Lemyre MD FRCPC
Site Chief of Neonatology, The Ottawa Hospital, General Campus
Associate Professor of Pediatrics, University of Ottawa


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  • Anonymous says:

    This is fantastic news for our Moms and babies in Ontario! Looking forward to hearing more about this as the Ontario bank is implemented! Vicki Bassett

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