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Canadian Paediatric Society

Donations of human milk could help sick, hospitalized newborns

Nov 1 2010

OTTAWA – Pasteurized human milk is a recommended alternative for hospitalized sick newborns when their own mother’s milk is not available, according to a new statement by the Canadian Paediatric Society.  The statement, published today in Paediatrics & Child Health, says that human milk banking in Canada should be encouraged and promoted.

“The most vulnerable babies should receive human milk,” said Dr. Sharon Unger, principal author of the statement and member of the CPS Nutrition and Gastroenterology Committee. “Only about half of the mothers of these babies will have an adequate milk supply, sometimes because they are sick themselves, or due to the stress of having a very sick baby or from being separated from their baby.”

Yet the supply of donor breast milk in Canada is limited. The only human milk bank Canada, based in Vancouver, can’t meet the needs of all babies who could benefit. 

The statement recommends strict controls on how and when human donor milk should be used. It also recommends continued research into the benefits of banked human breast milk for preterm infants in the NICU.

“Pasteurized human donor breast milk should only be provided to a baby following informed consent from a parent or guardian and if it is prescribed by a health care worker. It’s important for parents to be aware that donor milk is a recommended alternative to formula for sick hospitalized neonates,” said Dr. Unger. “The key is parental choice.”

To make informed decisions, parents of sick newborns need to be educated by health care providers about the benefits of breast milk and pasteurized human donor milk. Human milk must be pasteurized before being made available, and milk that has not been processed should not be shared.

“Because mothers are screened with the same rigor as for donating blood, and the milk is pasteurized, we can ensure parents that donor milk is safe,” said Dr. Unger.

Exclusive breastfeeding is the best choice for babies for the first six months of life and may continue for up to two years and beyond. Human breast milk provides benefits that cannot be replicated by infant formula, including improved health and development of the child as well as the health of the mother.

To access the full statement, visit: Human milk banking.


About the Canadian Paediatric Society

The Canadian Paediatric Society is a national advocacy association that promotes the health needs of children and youth. Founded in 1922, the CPS represents more than 3,000 paediatricians, paediatric subspecialists and other child health professionals across Canada.


Last updated: Nov 13 2012