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.
- 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