TORONTO — Declining milk donations from breastfeeding parents are causing shortages in parts of Canada, according to a milk bank that supplies several provinces across Canada.
The Calgary-based NorthernStar Mothers Milk Bank says there has been a drop in donations during the pandemic and it has seen a shortage.
“If we stay at the current pace, in about a month we’re going to start running into some issues,” co-founder and general manager Jannette Festival told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.
“This is an issue that we always need to monitor. It’s like donating blood, you can never say, “Oh, we have enough blood or we have too much blood. We don’t. It can spin so fast.
It’s also a challenge facing a number of regions across the United States, according to the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA), which issued a statement last week urging those who are breastfeeding to donate. .
“Collectively, our member milk banks face new challenges as COVID-19 cases rise and winter storms threaten to further disrupt the supply chain,” the group said in the statement.
“Milk can take several days to be tested, processed and made available to infants in need. Current supply is used almost as quickly as it becomes available.
NorthernStar launched a call for donations on Thursday, asking those with excess milk to sign up and become a donor. Although the majority of its donations come from Alberta, there are also East Coast donors, Festival said.
The Calgary organization is one of four milk banks in Canada and the only community-based one. It distributes pasteurized milk from approved donors to hospitals and homes in the provinces of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and throughout Atlantic Canada.
Three of the four Canadian banks, including NorthernStar, are members of HMBANA.
Festival, a registered nurse, said 816 people signed up to donate in 2020, while 716 signed up in 2021. The group distributed 175,000 ounces of milk, mostly to hospitals, in 2020, and distributed 240 000 ounces in 2021.
“So a 37% increase in milk going out with a 12% decrease in donors. We always look three months ahead, but fewer people are signing up and more milk is coming out,” Festival said.
While it’s unclear why there was an increase in 2021, Festival said it’s possible the pandemic played a role.
“It could be due to many things. It could be due to more sick babies, because of the pandemic. Maybe it’s because of more sick moms because of the pandemic. So if mothers get sick, they often give birth prematurely and those babies need milk,” Festival said.
In 2021, critical care healthcare professionals expressed concern over the disproportionate number of female patients with COVID-19 who were also pregnant and critically ill. At the time, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Ontario reported situations where doctors had to perform a C-section on the intensive care bed in order to properly treat the mother. And earlier this month, a group of Ontario hospitals, including the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, noted an increase in the number of infants hospitalized with COVID-19 due to a lack of maternal antibodies transferred from the parent. not vaccinated.
However, not all Canadian milk banks have this problem. In Ontario, the Rogers Hixon Ontario Human Milk Bank, which distributes pasteurized donor milk to 44 hospitals in the province and is a member of HMBANA, told CTVNews.ca it is not experiencing any shortages.
“We continue to see a vigorous response from donors across the province and we are able to pasteurize an abundant supply of donor milk to meet the needs of vulnerable people. [neonatal intensive care] infants,” spokeswoman Ashley Villarroel said in an email.
The Public Mother’s Milk Bank of Quebec, which is operated by Héma-Québec and is not part of HMBANA, also told CTVNews.ca that it was not experiencing any shortages and that the situation was fairly normal.
“We made a small appeal at the start of January, but we were able to recruit enough mothers to be sure that we could meet all the needs,” spokesman Laurent Paul Menard said, adding that the group had not experienced any kind of abnormal. changing demand in hospitals.
BC Women’s Provincial Milk Bank was not immediately available for comment.