Young Matthew MacDonald lives in a house of plenty. His mother, Abbie, has enough milk to nurse him and to ship to neonatal units as far as away as the Prairies.
YARMOUTH, N.S. - The woman on the other end of the phone thought Abbie MacDonald had made a mistake in the paperwork for her donation of breast milk for neo-natal intensive care units.
“We figured it was a typo – you meant 4.7 litres, not 47 litres, right?” asked the woman.
Human milk is amazing and has so many properties that formula doesn’t – even one feed can help a baby fight off diseases that can be crippling to a very young baby in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Jannette Festival, NorthernStar Mothers Milk Bank
“I said, ‘no, 47,’” said MacDonald with a laugh.
The receptionist was amazed.
She said, “Oh my, well 4.7 would feed the whole unit for a day. This is a lot of milk!”
MacDonald never dreamed she’d end up with enough breast milk to share. She now has at least 55 litres frozen.
When her baby, Matthew, was born by C-section Feb. 21, she faced nursing challenges. Her gestational diabetes had added another twist to an already complicated pregnancy.
When she was 17 weeks pregnant, she fell and broke her leg. Surgery, with screws in her leg, was required and she was in a wheelchair for months.
“I could walk for two weeks when I had him and then my hips kind of went,” she said.
She’s been off work as director of care at The Meadows senior residence in Yarmouth since then.
When she left the hospital with Matthew, she wasn’t feeling well so she decided to pump her milk instead of nurse.
“I was only getting very small amounts but within 15 days I was pumping enough that he didn’t need formula. I was really lucky but I had to stick with it – every two to three hours, around the clock I would pump,” she said.
Her husband and family were a tremendous help in making her schedule work. Her supply kept building and she froze the extra.
“I get anywhere from a litre to a litre-and- a-half per day. He drinks around 900 ml. So I’ve got extra,” she said. But her freezer was quickly filling up and she hated the thought of discarding any of the life-giving fluid.
MacDonald used to work in neonatal intensive care at the IWK and knows that human milk can reduce necrotizing enterocolitis, a serious intestinal illness in babies.
Health Canada doesn’t advise mom-to-mom sharing because of the lack of screening, but the Baby Friendly Initiative committee told her about the NorthernStar Mothers Milk Bank in Calgary.
After the screening process with them, MacDonald will be shipping her frozen breast milk for distribution.
Jannette Festival is the executive director of the organization.
“This is a large donation for one mom to make. We ask them to donate a minimum of 4.5 litres but our average donation is 15 litres,” she said.
The milk will be distributed across the Prairie provinces and the east coast.
Festival says typically the volume of milk a mom donates is not celebrated because it can make other mothers feel inadequate if they only meet the minimum.
“The message we don’t want to send is ‘why bother-it’s such a small amount.’ The fact is that these moms also save lives and we never want to diminish that fact,” she said.
“Human milk is amazing and has so many properties that formula doesn’t – even one feed can help a baby fight off diseases that can be crippling to a very young baby in the neonatal intensive care unit,” said Festival.
To read more about the NorthernStar Mothers Milk Bank in Calgary, Alberta visit this link.