OTTAWA -- Manitoba would be the fifth province to have a breast-milk bank if NDP leadership hopeful Theresa Oswald's campaign promise comes to fruition.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 6/1/2015 (2313 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA -- Manitoba would be the fifth province to have a breast-milk bank if NDP leadership hopeful Theresa Oswald's campaign promise comes to fruition.

There are currently breast-milk banks in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal.

Jodee Mason, an Oswald spokeswoman, said Monday Oswald can't yet offer a cost estimate or implementation plan for the bank.

But Mason said Oswald is researching other models in Canada and added many women in Manitoba have expressed a desire to either donate or receive donated milk.

The former health minister promised a donor breast-milk bank Sunday when she also pledged to expand midwifery services in Manitoba.

There are unofficial websites that allow women to share milk, but both Health Canada and the Canadian Pediatric Society recommend against using donated breast milk that has not been screened and pasteurized. Viruses such as HIV or hepatitis can be passed to an infant through breast milk.

"A formal milk bank would meet the highest safety standards for collecting, screening, storing and dispensing and ensure the milk is safe and high quality," Mason said.

Manitoba hospitals currently buy donor milk from a breast-milk bank in Ohio, but there are many babies who still don't have access to breast milk. Mason said there were 77 babies in The Pas alone last year who could have benefited from breast-milk donations.

Donor milk banks receive milk mainly from mothers who produce more breast milk than their own babies need. The donors, who are not paid, are screened for various diseases and viruses, and their milk is pooled and pasteurized before delivery to babies. Most banks provide milk to premature or sick babies who are hospitalized and whose mothers can't provide enough breast milk. If there is enough milk donated, some will also provide milk to families in the community.

There are many reasons a mother can't provide enough, or any, breast milk to her baby, including breast infections, giving birth to multiples, hormonal problems or the stress of having a premature baby.

The benefits of breast milk, particularly for premature babies with underdeveloped intestines, are significant. Breast milk is more easily digested by babies, and studies have shown premature infants tend to fare better and require shorter hospital stays if they get breast milk.

A study at two Canadian hospitals found giving premature infants breast milk resulted in a significant reduction in necrotizing enterocolitis, the most common intestinal disease in premature infants. It can be fatal or lead to lifelong intestinal disease.

Frances Jones, co-ordinator of the B.C. Women's Provincial Milk Bank, said the cost of running a milk bank can be equivalent to the cost of preventing just two cases of necrotizing enterocolitis each year.

In 2010, the Canadian Pediatric Society changed its stance on donor breast milk, saying pasteurized donated breast milk was recommended for hospitalized babies whose mothers cannot provide enough milk.

At that point, the B.C. Women's Provincial Milk Bank, based in Vancouver, was the only human milk bank operating in Canada. Since 2012, three more have opened, including the Calgary Mother's Milk Bank, the Rogers Hixon Ontario Human Milk Bank in Toronto and the Public Mother's Milk Bank in Montreal. The Calgary bank is the only private, non-profit bank in Canada.

The milk banks in Vancouver and Toronto are run by hospitals with both provincial and private financing, while the Quebec bank is run by Hema Quebec.