Thursday's Tip: Human Milk Banking in Canada

By LLLC Blog, 31 March, 2016

In Canada human milk banks are not for profit organizations. Donor mothers donate their milk for philanthropic reasons and are never paid for their donation. In some cases families may receive payment to cover the costs of shipping and storage containers however it is illegal to sell or purchase human milk in Canada.

Human milk banks have a rigorous screening procedure for potential donors that takes place prior to donating milk, including a comprehensive medical and lifestyle interview, approval from a physician and serological testing for several diseases. This testing is repeated on a semi-annual basis. Exclusion factors include taking prescription drugs, chronic infections and smoking. After passing all of the strict screening procedures, donor mothers are educated on safe handling and storage techniques. The expressed milk is frozen, stored and transported to the milk bank for further processing. 

There are currently four human milk banks in Canada operating from Calgary, Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. Following the guidelines created by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) these milk banks abide by strict operating procedures, which include medical supervision, bacteriological testing, pasteurisation, storage, and distribution. Donor human milk from the milk banks in Canada is only available by prescription and is usually being provide for hospitalized premature babies whose mothers have not yet estabished an adequate milk supply by pumping. Atlantic Canada, Manitoba and Saskatchewan have formed working groups which are looking towards the establishment of milk banks in their regions.

When donor human milk (DHM) reaches the milk bank, it is thawed, cultured to determine the bacterial content and pooled to blend for constituent variation. Pooled DHM that meets the standard is pasteurized using the Holder method (62.5°C for 30 minutes), which achieves the equivalent level of microbiological safety required for other commercial liquid milk sold in Canada. After pasteurization, another microbial screening is performed to ensure the absence of all microorganisms. The milk is then frozen and stored.

For more information on human milk banking:

Summary paper on donor human milk banks in Canada published July 15 2015

Canadian Paediatric Society position statement on human milk banking: reaffirmed Feb 1 2016

Government of Canada statement on the safety of donor milk in Canada

Health Canada alert regarding human milk obtained through the internet or directly from individuals

Human Milk Banking Association of North America

Thursday's Tip: Wet Nursing and Cross Nursing will give you more information about unregulated milk sharing.

Mom with newborn in NICU