10/11/2012 11:31 EDT | Updated 12/11/2012 05:12 EST

Edmonton Breast Milk Depot: Hospital Opens Spot For Moms Who Want To Donate

In this photo taken Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012, Kelly Fischl, a lab technician at the Mothers' Milk Bank of New England in Newtonville, Mass., pours donated breast milk into a plastic bottle for pasteurization. The pathogens are removed so the milk can be distributed to babies in need. Now a year into operation, officials at Mothers' Milk Bank of New England said it's the only facility of its sort in the region and one of only a dozen similar operations in North America. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
EDMONTON - Audrey Inouye pumps her breast milk at home twice each day, setting some aside for tiny, premature babies in hospitals who aren't able to get it from their own mothers.

"It's a few minutes out of my day and it's just a small token — a little bit I can do to nourish babies," the Edmonton woman said Thursday while juggling her 10-month old son and a cooler bag containing four litres of milk, frozen in small plastic containers.

Inouye is one of a dozen mothers who have so far signed up to donate at a new human milk depot at the Grey Nuns Community Hospital — basically a small storage room with a large freezer.

Staff is waiting until the freezer is full before shipping its contents to the Calgary Mothers' Milk Bank, where the milk will be pasteurized, tested, and distributed back to the Grey Nuns and other hospitals in Alberta, as well as Ontario.

Gail Cameron, director of Maternal, Neonatal and Child Health Programs for Covenant Health, said studies show human milk is better than formula at fighting disease and infection. And many moms who pump and store milk at home for healthy babies often have more than they need.

"Nobody wants to throw it away. We call it liquid gold."

She said the depot has received four donations since it opened on Tuesday. And many more moms have been calling to find out how they can donate, too.

Women must first be screened by the Calgary bank and have their blood tested.

The non-profit bank has approved 70 donors and another 90 are in the process of applying, said executive director Jannette Festival. The majority of mothers are from Alberta, but some live in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario and British Columbia.

Canada's only other milk bank is located in the B.C. Women's Hospital and Health Centre in Vancouver.

Festival said each mom usually sends their milk to Calgary by courier. But the Edmonton depot will save on that cost and make it easier for local mothers to donate.

Down the hall from the depot, Trina Anderson cradles her new daughter, Aryka. She was born five weeks early on Sept. 28, weighing three pounds and 11 ounces.

Anderson said her own breast milk wasn't coming in and the baby was dropping weight fast. Nurses suggested she use donor milk.

"I'd never heard of it before. Ever," said Anderson, adding that it took her a while to get used to the idea of using milk from a stranger. But she didn't want to give her baby formula either.

"I was stressing out. I was crying at night, crying because I didn't have milk. The (nurses) just reassured me that it was OK."

Anderson said her daughter gobbled up the milk and began to thrive. She's now on a mixed diet of donor and mom's milk and should be able to go home soon.

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