Fort McMurray moms donating breast milk to families in need, babies in NICU

Cole Doyle, Kristina Landry's son, seated next to her latest donation of breast milk.  (Submitted by Kristina Landry - image credit)
Cole Doyle, Kristina Landry's son, seated next to her latest donation of breast milk. (Submitted by Kristina Landry - image credit)

Fort McMurray moms are stepping up to donate breast milk through an Alberta-based charity and helping to ensure babies across Alberta, in NICUs and at home, have enough to eat.

The mothers are donating through NorthernStar Mothers Milk Bank, which is based in Calgary but has a donation location, or milk drop, in Fort McMurray, along with several other places in the province.

Kristina Landry, mother of two, started donating breast milk when her youngest was two months old. She has donated about 50 litres ounces to the NorthernStar and another almost 44 litres directly to Fort McMurray moms.

Landry amassed a freezer full of extra breast milk, much more than her baby could eat.

She didn't want to throw the milk away, and then she heard about the milk bank.

"It's very rewarding. I love it," said Landry.

Jamie Malbeuf/CBC
Jamie Malbeuf/CBC

The milk goes to mothers who are struggling to produce, or to be used at hospitals across Canada in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

Jannette Festival, executive director and co-founder of Calgary-based NorthernStar Mothers Milk Bank, said every year the milk bank is growing.

In their first year, 2012, they dispensed more than 1,700 litres of milk, and so far this year it's been nearly 7,400 litres.

"Parents are quite happy because they know they have a choice on how they feed their baby," said Festival.

Festival noted that the number of donors in Fort McMurray dropped to a low of six in 2019, but there are 18 already this year.

"One donor can make such an impact," said Festival.

Mel Hargrove, mother of two, started donating this year.

"My freezer stock just went crazy and my kid doesn't take bottles," said Hargrove.

"These babies that are getting the milk in the NICU are so immunocompromised and they need all of the help they can get," said Hargrove. "If the antibodies from my breast milk is going to help just one baby, then that in itself makes me happy enough to do it."

Hargrove has also donated milk directly to moms in Fort McMurray to help them top up their milk supply and feed their babies.

"You actually get to have a face-to-face interaction with them and it made that transaction a little more beautiful," said Hargrove.

Jasmine Armstrong, mother of three, breastfed her first two children, but caught COVID-19 when her daughter was two months old.

She stopped breastfeeding for two days while she was sick, and her milk supply stopped. To make things worse, her daughter refused formula.

"I kind of panicked," said Armstrong.

Submitted by Kristina Landry
Submitted by Kristina Landry

Through social media, she found moms who had extra milk they were looking to share with others.

The women she got donations from were also donating to the NorthernStar Mothers Milk Bank, so Armstrong felt the milk was safe.

"It was pretty much a miracle for me," said Armstrong.

The support she received from the community kept her baby fed and happy, and now her daughter is her "thickest baby."

"I just remember picking up the milk and bawling in the vehicle and having to gain my composure in order to drive home," said Armstrong.