Milk bank at BC Women’s Hospital to expand

April 8 2013
April 8, 2012, VANCOUVER – Government is providing a grant of $650,000 to the BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre Foundation to support their campaign to expand the milk bank program at BC Women’s Hospital + Health Centre in response to community demand for donor breast milk for preterm and critically-ill babies.

“The milk bank makes sure that the most medically vulnerable babies get the milk they need, when they need it,” said Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid. “Breast milk has significant health benefits and provides nutrition that helps these vulnerable babies get the best possible start in life.”

The milk bank provides pasteurized donor milk to about 2,500 babies a year. Almost all of the recipients are premature and critically-ill children whose mothers are unable to breastfeed or provide enough breast milk to feed their children. Pasteurized donor breast milk helps prevent serious illness and decreases health-care costs, including reducing a baby’s length of hospital stay. Donor milk is provided with prescription from a doctor or midwife.

“B.C.’s sick babies and their families will no longer have to rely on potentially unsafe, unpasteurized breast milk sold through the underground market,” said Frances Jones, coordinator for the hospital’s milk bank and lactation program. “The expanded program will increase our ability to collect, pasteurize and send pasteurized donor human milk to more sick babies in need throughout the province.”

The BC Women’s Hospital + Health Care Foundation’s goal is to increase capacity to double the number of babies who receive milk from the bank. The foundation has a campaign to raise the money needed to move the milk bank to a larger, purpose-renovated space.

“My son was born with heart problems and I couldn’t produce enough breast milk for him,” said Heather Johnson, a milk bank recipient. “The milk bank was his saviour during the first fragile months of his life. I truly don’t’ know what we would have done without donor breast milk during that time. Knowing that this funding means the milk bank will be better able to help other families through similar rough times is a real dream come true.”

Breastfeeding is the normal way of feeding babies, but mothers who give birth to a preterm baby struggle to provide their own breast milk and some infants may be too sick to breastfeed. Pasteurized donor milk can be a life saving measure for these infants, helping to protect against infection and to promote optimal growth and development.

Donor milk is internationally recommended due to the health benefits with research showing babies in neonatal intensive care units receiving breast milk have shorter stays in hospital, fewer infections and few hospital readmissions in the first year of life.

“The Foundation is so pleased to receive the $650,000 from the provincial government. This contribution to the foundation supports our ongoing fundraising efforts to help BC Women’s Hospital acquire state-of-the-art equipment and technology and to meet the need of infants and their families throughout the province,” said BC Women’s Foundation CEO, Laurie Clarke.  “It also builds upon the leading position of the BC Women’s Hospital milk bank as one of only two hospital-based milk banks in Canada.”

“BC Women’s Hospital is committed to excellence in care for the province’s sickest babies, and providing access to breast milk helps give newborns the very best start in life. The hospital is grateful for this tremendous boost to the milk bank,” said Jan Christilaw, president of BC Women's Hospital + Health Centre.

A processing fee of $5 per 120 cc’s of donor human milk is currently charged to recipients outside of BC Women’s Hospital.

Learn more at:

Media Contacts:

Ryan Jabs
Media Relations Manager
Ministry of Health
250 952-1887 (media line)

Marisa Nichini
Communications Manager
BC Women’s Hospital & Health Centre
Provincial Health Services Authority
604 875-2746


Health Minister Margaret MacDiarmid (centre), with BC Women's Milk Bank recipient family (left to right): Don Wong, holding Aiton, and Heather Johnston, holding Matthew.