NorthernStar Mothers Milk Bank

Every year in Alberta, 4,700 premature babies are born who need access to life-saving donor human milk. We are Canada's only community-based milk bank dedicated to providing sick and fragile babies with the life-saving nutrients of pasteurized donor human milk.

Our Story Why We Exist

Baby Sullivan was delivered 4 months early at 25 weeks and 5 days, by caesarean section, weighing just 1 lb, 7.5 ounces.

Sullivan had multiple health factors associated with his very early delivery. His mom, Emily, also experienced complications during her pregnancy including preeclampsia and severe back pain. After delivery, what was thought to have been a slipped disc in Emily’s back, was diagnosed as three large cancerous tumours.

Unfortunately, with Emily’s serious health complications and her starting chemotherapy treatments after Sullivan born, the decision was made to put Sullivan on pasteurized donor human milk from NorthernStar Mothers Milk Bank (formerly Calgary Mothers Milk Bank).

With Emily and Sullivan each receiving treatments in different hospitals, Justin was unable to continue working. Emily was undergoing chemotherapy while Sullivan had multiple operations associated with his premature delivery. Sullivan relied on pasteurized donor human milk to provide not only nutrients, but also protection to his fragile immune and gastrointestinal systems. Due to Sullivan's long-term hospital stay, he surpassed the age that the hospital would cover donor human milk, leaving his dad Justin to cover the cost. Justin reached out to NorthernStar Mothers Milk Bank and was accepted into the Charitable Care program to ensure Sullivan would continue to receive the life-saving donor milk his body needed free of charge.

When Sullivan turned 10 months old, he lost his mom to cancer.

Shortly after, Sullivan was able to leave the hospital and be at home with his dad. Because of his long term intubation, Sullivan built-up scar tissue in his esophagus causing it to narrow, making swallowing difficult. As a result most of his caloric intake was from pasteurized donor human milk through a tube in his stomach. He continued to receive donor human milk until he was 18 months old.

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We encourage you to watch the beautiful video on Baby Sullivan and learn more about our Charitable Care Program by visiting our website.

Our Impact What We Do

Every year in Alberta, 1 in 11 babies are born prematurely (less than 37 gestational weeks)

While the average term infant weighs approximately 7 and a half pounds, the smallest premature infants may weigh just over one pound. These babies are too small to breastfeed and are often faced with health challenges.  As advocates and champions for healthy babies, we believe, and science endorses, that human milk is the best option for any baby and that all babies should have access to life-saving donor human milk. We screen breastfeeding mothers as milk donors, accepting their excess milk as donations to be pasteurized in the laboratory, tested for bacteria and dispensed to sick babies in hospitals and in the community.

Research shows "that when the mother’s own milk is unavailable for the sick, hospitalized newborn, pasteurized donor human breast milk should be made available as an alternative feeding choice " (Canadian Pediatric Society; 2016).  Pasteurized donor human milk provides the healthiest option to newborns and premature babies who spend time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Many sick and fragile babies depend on the immediate access to donor human milk for its life-saving health benefits.

For women who cannot nurse as a result of a low milk supply, necessary medication usage, illness, adoption or surrogacy, we make it possible for all at-risk Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) babies to receive human milk.

The benefits of donor human milk:
  • Lowers infection rates by transferring antibodies to fight disease
  • Decreases length of stay in the NICU
  • Decreases incidence of feeding intolerance and diarrhea
  • Decreases the risk of retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) - a potentially blinding eye disease that is primarily seen in premature babies
  • Lowers the risk of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) - the most fatal gastrointestinal infection in the NICU
 Who receives our milk? Predominantly hospitalized babies that:
  • Were born premature
  • Do not have access to mother’s own milk (adoption, surrogacy, mastectomy, breast reduction, illness)
  • Do not have safe access to mother’s milk (mother has infectious disease, illness, undergoing radiation or chemotherapy treatments)
  • Have gastrointestinal and digestive issues
  • Require donor human milk as part of post-operative care
  • Have been diagnosed with a chronic illness or compromised immune system
  • Are a twin or multiple (low milk supply)
  • Require donor human milk as a bridge until their mothers' milk comes in
NorthernStar Mothers Milk Bank is Canada’s only community-based milk bank.

There are currently two other milk banks, located in Vancouver and Toronto, however these milk banks are run out of provincially funded hospitals and almost exclusively service babies admitted within the hospitals they serve. As a community-based milk bank, we operate independently of the provincial health care system and can serve babies who wouldn't otherwise have access to donor human milk.

Our Vision: to connect donor human milk with as many sick and fragile babies as possible.

Our Beliefs:

  • We are in the business of saving lives. We want to give every sick and fragile baby the best chance possible.
  • Research supports that babies who receive donor human milk build critical immunity and are at a reduced risk of life-long illness. We should think of donor human milk the same way as we do medicine. 
  • Donor human milk can help babies receive more nutrients, expedite healing and develop faster. It provides natural antibodies that help babies resist illnesses.
  • We need a community-based solution for babies in need. Our agency screens breastfeeding women with excess milk who choose to donate for selfless reasons.
  • Our commitment to safety is evident in our process. From our screening of donor mothers, to our state-of-the art lab, we’re committed to the highest safety standard in our field. See our video to learn more.

Our Results: Since opening our doors in 2012, we have undergone substantial growth. Along with the statistics provided below, ten Milk Drops have also opened across Canada.

                                                              2012           2013           2014           2015           2016

         Number of Milk Donors       217                230               451               650              812    

Number of Hospitals Served         8                   14                 17                  20                 22

     Ounces of Milk Dispensed    33,000        65,000         98,600        133,956       126,676

Our Programs How We Do It

NorthernStar Mothers Milk Bank is leading the country in providing sick and fragile babies with life-saving breastmilk. In addition to pasteurizing donor human milk, we also offer Breastfeeding classes, Lactation Consultant Advice and provide a service to Bereaved mothers aiding in the healing process after a loss.

We are in constant need of healthy breastfeeding mothers and help from community partnerships:
  • Donor Moms: Milk donors are healthy women who have delivered a baby within the past year and who are currently breastfeeding or pumping their milk. They are not compensated for their milk and are donating selflessly. Our video "How to Donate" outlines how moms can begin the process of becoming donors. Click HERE for information on how to donate.
  • Milk Drops: Outside of the Calgary area, Milk Drops are available as locations for approved donor moms to drop off their donations. These partnerships with health regions and doctors offices are essential as they increase community awareness for milk banking and make it easier for moms to donate. View a list of our Milk Drop locations HERE.
  • Transfer of Milk: All of our donations are kept frozen until the pasteurization process. This requires timely transport using a variety of local and national couriers.
  • Volunteers: We rely on volunteers to assist us in our day-to-day workings. Their time and effort allows us to keep our costs as low as possible and on track with the time sensitive production of pasteurized donor human milk.
Pasteurized Donor Human Milk - How it works:

Dispensing safe pasteurized donor human milk is our highest priority. We take numerous steps to ensure all babies receive safe human milk that retains the many benefits of human milk.  NorthernStar Mothers Milk Bank adheres to the strict guidelines set forth by HMBANA (Human Milk Banking Association of North America). The pasteurization process can also be viewed in the video “Milk Journey”.

  1. Potential donor moms contact the milk bank and are guided through a verbal multistep screening, which includes lifestyle and medical history.
  2. Donor moms’ health care providers complete forms that verify a donor is healthy and that excess breast milk would be appropriate for donation.
  3. Donor moms have a blood test to screen for infectious diseases.
  4. Donor human milk is processed in our lab, where staff are required to scrub in prior to working with the milk. Donor human milk is poured into flasks, filtered, homogenized, poured into bottles, visually inspected and then heat sealed and labelled. The label allows each bottle of milk to be traced forwards or backwards through each step in the milk tracking system.
  5. Donor human milk is pasteurized using the Holder method of pasteurization. The milk is heated to 62.5 C for 30 minutes. This pasteurization process kills bacteria, CMV and other viruses while still preserving immunological properties unique to human milk. The macronutrients are unchanged by pasteurization.
  6. Third party testing of a sample of milk from each donor before pasteurization and a bottle from each batch post-pasteurization is sent to a third party lab to ensure there are no harmful bacteria. Milk is only dispensed once a post-pasteurization culture shows no growth.
  7. Milk is then stored in our industrial freezers at -20 C and is dispensed by prescription to hospitals or babies in the community.
Our Programs:

Breastfeeding Basics Classes: Monthly free prenatal breastfeeding class intended to give parents the tools to navigate the first few weeks with their newborn. Skills and strategies such as breastfeeding positions, proper latch, feeding frequency, when and where to get help, troubleshooting and common concerns, are all areas that our lactation consultant (IBCLC) will address.

Lactation Consultant Services: Members of our staff are certified lactation consultants (IBCLC) who are readily available to answer any questions or concerns our donors have regarding breastfeeding their babies.

Bereavement Donation Program: Some of our mothers who donate milk are going through a very difficult time as they were not able to bring their precious baby home with them. After a loss, milk production still continues and mothers have choices on how to manage their supply. Donating their breastmilk after the loss of their baby is an option that we provide. Donating milk often gives purpose to bereaved mothers knowing that their milk is helping other babies, and creating a legacy for a lost child can be a step in the healing process.

For more information on our programs, please contact us at 403-475-6455 or email contact@nothernstarmilkbank.ca.

Our Requests What You Can Do

We rely on the generosity of individuals and corporations in order to continue our life-saving program. Financial assistance as well as volunteers are an integral part of our success in helping sick and fragile babies.

Financial Support

As a non-profit organization, we do not receive any government funding. We operate on a cost recovery basis. Hospitals pay a dispensation fee which includes the cost of screening, pasteurizing and testing the milk.  This does not include any costs incurred by our Charitable Care Program (see below), organization growth, equipment replacement, staffing needs outside of laboratory services, breastfeeding classes and materials, advertising and awareness campaigns. We must raise a minimum of $150,000 annually to cover these additional operating costs.

We have five top priorities for funding:
1.      Charitable Care Program - $60,000

Once babies leave the hospital, the cost of human donor milk is no longer covered by the hospital. Although the recipient might still be sick and still require donor human milk, the families are then left to cover the dispensing cost. In these cases, charitable care is available. This fund, which is generated solely from individual, family and corporate donors, ensures families have access to donor human milk for their baby. 100% of funds raised for charitable care are used to cover the cost of milk for families in need. 

2.     A New Pasteurizer - $40,000

As the milk bank grows, so does the need for updated equipment. Our pasteurizer currently allows us to process 143 bottles of donor human milk per day. A new pasteurizer would allow us to double our production and fulfill larger orders in less time.

3.     Ice maker - $5,000

We currently receive daily deliveries of ice that is required for the pasteurization process. Having an ice machine on hand would help streamline the pasteurization process, make ice accessible and readily available and reduce transportation costs.

4.     Walk-in-Freezer - $70,000

One of our largest challenges is storage. We are only able to pasteurize as much milk as our freezers will hold. Currently, we have milk stored at three different locations across Calgary that requires us to move, transfer and transport milk on a weekly basis. We will be installing a walk-in freezer in our new location that will permit us to have all of our donations and a larger amount of pasteurized milk on hand.  

5.     Transition to New Location - $200,000

NorthernStar Mothers Milk Bank has seen a large amount of growth over the past four years. Our current facility limits the amount of milk that we are able to pasteurize and provide. We are expecting our growth to continue as the awareness of milk donation increases; therefore, in 2017 we will be transitioning to a new location. This will allow us to pasteurize a larger amount of milk, fulfill large orders, receive and dispense more milk and be prepared for emergency orders. The primary costs associated with this transition include: building a clean laboratory (plumbing and electrical fittings and installation), custom installation of a large walk-in freezer, moving costs, materials and furniture, as well as updating technology.

Volunteer Opportunities

We are thankful for the generous donation of our volunteers’ time. Volunteers allow us to keep our milk costs as low as possible, as well as keep our day-to-day operations running smoothly. Our volunteers are involved in numerous activities, including:

  • Pasteurization of donor milk
  • Logging in donor milk
  • Administrative work

We also look for individuals who would be interested in joining our Ambassador Program. NorthernStar Ambassadors are our voice in the community. They are donor mothers, recipient mothers, nurses and volunteers who help us share our story in the community. They have first-hand experience and knowledge of the life-changing benefits of donating human donor milk.

If you are interested in volunteering, please contact us at contact@nothernstarmilkbank.ca.

Contact

Jannette Festival
Executive Director
403.475.6455
Charitable Number: 814033312RR0001

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