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About Sickkids
About SickKids

March 28, 2014

SickKids celebrates first anniversary of The Rogers Hixon Ontario Human Milk Bank

By Justin Faiola

It was a cause for celebration on March 25 as SickKids marked the first anniversary of The Rogers Hixon Ontario Human Milk Bank at Mount Sinai Hospital.

“Thank you to Mount Sinai, Sunnybrook and SickKids for this great partnership that benefits children across the province,” said Deb Matthews, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care. “Together, we are giving these very tiny, early babies the best possible start in life.”

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From left to right: Dr. Deborah O’Connor, Dr. Sharon Unger, Dr. Shoo Lee, Debbie Stone, Melinda Rogers and Hon. Deb Matthews at the first anniversary celebrations.

Located at Mount Sinai, the milk bank is a joint-initiative between SickKids, Mount Sinai and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, and is supported by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, as well as a generous donation from the Rogers Hixon Foundation. It is Ontario’s only milk bank, which collects, processes and distributes donor human milk to neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) in hospitals across the province. Since its inception, 170 donor mothers have sent their milk in and the bank has dispensed more than 30,000 ounces of milk to several hundred medically fragile babies. Debbie Stone RN, seconded from SickKids, is the inaugural Manager of the milk bank.

The success of the project so far has largely been rooted in the research and ground work of Dr. Deborah O’Connor, Senior Associate Scientist at SickKids and Professor, Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto, Dr. Sharon Unger, neonatologist and Medical Director of The Rogers Hixon Ontario Human Milk Bank and their large team of collaborators from all NICUs across the greater Toronto and Hamilton area. Their early research demonstrated significant retention of the important bioactive properties in human milk known to prevent the severe bowel emergency necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) following processing of the donor milk. NEC is a severe gastrointestinal disease that involves infection and inflammation that causes destruction of the bowel or part of the bowel.

“We have always been convinced of the value of donor milk as a supplement to mothers’ own milk to improve the health outcomes across hospitalized infants, but we needed to research how long to feed it and how to modify it so babies grew to optimize their neurodevelopment,” said O’Connor.

O’Connor and Unger’s research also revealed that the vast majority of mothers of preterm infants were highly motivated to provide their own milk, but for a variety of reasons related to preterm birth, up to 70 per cent of these mothers were unable to provide a full volume.

In 2010, O’Connor, Unger and Dr. Sharyn Gibbins, Nurse Practitioner at SickKids and Director of Professional Practice at Trillium Health Partners, were funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) to introduce donor milk across 17 neonatal units across the greater Toronto and Hamilton area. On March 18, 2014, the CIHR announced an additional $2 million to O’Connor and Unger to expand their research to Halifax’s IWK Health Centre and Vancouver-based BC Children’s Hospital. They will continue to examine ways to optimize both donor human milk and mother’s own milk with additional nutrients in NICUs. They will also evaluate other promising nutritional strategies that will improve growth, gastrointestinal health and neurodevelopment of very preterm infants.

“I want to thank our partners for acting so decisively on the research-based evidence advocating the need for a human milk bank,” said O’Connor. “Without your support, there would be no donor milk bank in Ontario today.”

For more information, please visit www.milkbankontario.ca.