Use of A Rescue Exclusive Human Milk Diets in Infants < 1250g. The Winnipeg Experience

Use of A Rescue Exclusive Human Milk Diets in Infants < 1250g. The Winnipeg Experience

Exclusive human milk (EHM) diets using either mother’s own milk or donor milk plus a human based human milk fortifier have been the subject of many papers over the last few years. Such papers have demonstrated reductions is such outcomes as NEC, length of stay, days of TPN and number of times feedings are held due to feeding intolerance to name just a few outcomes. There is little argument that a diet for a human child composed of human milk makes a great deal of sense. Although we have come to rely on bovine sources of both milk and fortifier when human milk is unavailable I am often reminded that bovine or cow’s milk is for baby cows.

Challenges with using an exclusive human milk diet.

While it makes intuitive sense to strive for an exclusive human milk diet, there are barriers to the same. Low rates of maternal breastfeeding coupled with limited or no exposure to donor breast milk programs are a clear impediment. Even if you have those first two issues minimized through excellent rates of breast milk provision, there remains the issue of whether one has access to a human based fortifier to achieve the “exclusive” human milk diet.

The “exclusive” approach is one that in the perfect world we would all strive for but in times of fiscal constraint there is no question that any and all programs will be questioned from a cost-benefit standpoint. The issue of cost has been addressed previously by Ganapathy et al in their paper Costs of Necrotizing Enterocolitis and Cost-Effectiveness of Exclusively Human Milk-Based Products in Feeding Extremely Premature Infants. The authors were able to demonstrate that choosing an exclusive human milk diet is cost effective in addition to the benefits observed clinically from such a diet. In Canada where direct costs are more difficult to visualize and a reduction in nursing staff per shift brings about the most direct savings, such an argument becomes more difficult to achieve.

Detractors from the EHM diet argue that we have been using bovine fortification from many years and the vast majority of infants regardless of gestational age have little challenge with it. Growth rates of 15-20 g/kg/d are achievable using such fortification so why would you need to treat all patients with an EHM diet?

A Rescue Approach

In our own centre we were faced with these exact questions and developed a rescue approach. The rescue was designed to identify those infants who seemed to have a clear intolerance to bovine fortifier as all of the patients we care for under 1250g receive either mother’s own or donor milk. The approach used was as follows:

A. < 27 weeks 0 days or < 1250 g
          i. 2 episode of intolerance to HMF
ii. Continue for 2 weeks

This month we published our results from using this targeted rescue approach in Winnipeg, Human Based Human Milk Fortifier as Rescue Therapy in Very Low Birth Weight Infants Demonstrating Intolerance to Bovine Based Human Milk Fortifier with Dr. Sandhu being the primary author (who wrote this as a medical student with myself and others. We are thrilled to share our experience and describe the cases we have experienced in detail in the paper. Suffice to say though that we have identified value in such an approach and have now modified our current approach based on this experience to the following protocol for using human derived human milk fortifier in our centre to the current:
A. < 27 weeks 0 days or < 1250 g
i. 1 episode of intolerance to HMF
ii. Continue for 4 weeks
B. ≥ 27 week 0 days or ≥ 750g
i. 2 episodes of intolerance to HMF
ii. Continue for 4 weeks or to 32 weeks 0 days whichever comes sooner

We believe given our current contraints, this approach will reduce the risk of NEC, feeding intolerance and ultimately length of stay while being fiscally prudent in these challenging times. Given the interest at least in Canada with what we have been doing here in Winnipeg and with the publication of our results it seemed like the right time to share this with you.  Whether this approach or one that is based on providing human based human milk fortifier to all infants <1250g is a matter of choice for each institution that chooses to use a product such as Prolacta.  In no way is this meant to be a promotional piece but rather to provide an option for those centres that would like to use such products to offer an EHM diet but for a variety of reasons have opted not to provide it to all.

Manitobans Now Able To Support Premature Infants Through Donor Milk Program!

Manitobans Now Able To Support Premature Infants Through Donor Milk Program!


What follows is a news release from today that begins a new chapter in supporting preemies here in Manitoba.  There are far too many people to thank who made this possible but to all I say THANK YOU!

New Breast Milk Drop Site at the Birth Centre  Benefits Premature and Sick Infants

DECEMBER 2, 2015 (WINNIPEG, MB) – The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority (WRHA) announced today a milk drop site is being established at the Birth Centre (603 St. Mary’s Road) in Winnipeg. Minister Blady announced the collaboration between Women’s Health Clinic and the NorthernStar Mother’s Milk Bank.

Registered donations of breast milk will be accepted by the Birth Centre in Winnipeg and transported for pasteurization at NorthernStar’s lab in Calgary. The pasteurized human milk from donors will be used to help premature and sick babies in neonatal intensive care units in hospitals, and in the community, across Canada.

“There can be a number of reasons why a mother may not be able to provide breast milk for her baby,” said Health Minister Sharon Blady. “This new Milk Drop site will help families ensure premature and sick babies get the best possible start in life by providing pasteurized donor human milk an infant needs to not only survive, but thrive.”

The minister noted that establishing a human milk drop supports recommendations made in the Manitoba Breastfeeding Strategy, released in 2013.

The WRHA purchased a freezer for the milk drop with funds provided by the Winnipeg-based Siobhan Richardson Foundation. The Birth Centre will house the freezer and ensure the safe handling and storage of donated human milk before it is shipped to Calgary for processing.

“My thanks and appreciation goes out to the Siobhan Richardson Foundation for supporting new moms as well as our tiniest patients,” said Dana Erickson, Chief Operating Officer, Health Sciences Centre and WRHA executive responsible for child health and women’s health.  “This milk drop initiative in Manitoba is a reality because of their vision and generosity along with the commitment and hard work of our excellent health care team.”

Studies have shown premature infants who receive the nutrients of pasteurized human milk from donors, when their mother’s own milk is not available, have fewer long-term health needs. The use of pasteurized donor human milk instead of formula can reduce the risk of serious health complications in pre-term infants. Having a dedicated milk supply for these babies can save lives.

“Several health outcomes for preterm infants are improved when pasteurized donor human milk, rather than formula, is used in these high risk infants,” said Dr. Michael Narvey, section head of neonatology for the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. “Pasteurized donor human milk has been proven to reduce the chances of an infant developing a serious condition of the bowel which can lead to lifelong and serious health consequences.  Babies weighing less than 1500 grams are significantly less likely to develop this serious condition when they are given pasteurized human milk from donors as opposed to formula.”

Starting January 4, 2016, the Birth Centre will accept breast milk from donors approved by NorthernStar Mothers Milk Bank (formerly the Calgary Mothers Milk Bank). Women must first contact the NorthernStar Mothers Milk Bank to be screened prior to dropping off their donation at the Birth Centre. Women will then need to have further screening including blood tests by their primary care provider to confirm if they qualify as a donor. These donations will be sent to the milk bank’s lab in Calgary where the donor milk is tested, pasteurized, and then prioritized for premature and sick infants.

“We are excited to see Manitoba’s first Milk Drop opening in Winnipeg,” said Janette Festival, Executive Director, NorthernStar Mothers Milk Bank. “This Milk Drop is a testament to cooperation of multiple groups who believe in the medical power of donor human milk for babies in need. We hope this new ‘drop’ will encourage women in the Winnipeg area to consider becoming a milk donor.”

Women’s Health Clinic operates the Birth Centre facility and community programming, and will be collecting the donations and shipping them to the milk bank for testing and pasteurizing.

“Women and families come to the Birth Centre every day for a range of maternal health and wellness services, making it an ideal location for the new Milk Drop site,” said Joan Dawkins, Executive Director of Women’s Health Clinic. “Women who are interested in donating can get the process underway now by contacting NorthernStar Mothers Milk Bank.”

To donate, mothers can contact the milk bank at 1-403-475-6455 or visit

For more information contact:

Melissa Hoft

Winnipeg Regional Health Authority

P: (204) 926-7180 C: (204) 299-0152 E: [email protected]


Amy Tuckett

Women’s Health Clinic (Birth Centre)

P: (204) 947-2422 ext. 147 C: (204) 996-6289 E: [email protected]


Janette Festival

NorthernStar Mothers Milk Bank

P: (403) 475-6455 E: [email protected]