According to Health Canada, the closure of a large infant formula manufacturing plant by Abbott Laboratories in the United States, which has resulted in a shortage across the globe, has also impacted the Canadian market.
"Canada is experiencing a shortage of infant formulas designed for babies with food allergies and certain medical conditions. There are two types of formulas for babies with food allergies: extensively hydrolyzed infant formulas and amino acid-based formulas. In certain provinces, the supply of these products is not meeting the demand."
One individual who has been trying to alleviate the stress for others is an Airdrie mom, P. (whose identity is being kept confidential). Her extended family had an infant who was in both the Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) and then The Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU). He had several major abdominal surgeries when he was 3-4 months old and was not able to process the typical infant formula that is readily available on the market. It was a weekend in February when the family ran out of specialized formula and the hospital wasn't able to provide more.
"We aren't formula feeding, but helping out. I would do anything for her and her little guys. I love them dearly. For me, it wasn't a big issue, but for her, it's the difference between feeding a child and not," she said. "I found a few moms who had even just a few sample cans and I drove the one day with my little guy to go pick up the stuff for her because like her little guy is at home, he's on oxygen,"
P. also noted that other friends of hers have a baby that has a severe allergy to cow milk proteins, and considering the majority of the proteins are manufactured with cow milk proteins, it posed a severe risk for the baby's health.
"He can't have any of that. Last time he ended up hospitalized."
Health Canada cited that they are doing everything they can to mitigate the situation to provide parents with safe and healthy alternatives.
"The Department has published an interim policy to recommend enforcement discretion to facilitate the importation of equivalent and safe infant formulas that have been approved by a foreign regulatory authority or are allowed to be sold in foreign jurisdictions that have high quality and manufacturing standards similar to Canada. The interim policy includes a list of products eligible for this policy that is updated regularly."
However, according to Jannette Festival, the Executive Director and co-founder of Northern Star Mother's Milk Bank in Calgary, there is hope that the supply chain will stabilize in the near future, but it is unlikely it will happen immediately. She noted that the Milk Bank has not seen an overt increase in demand for donated breastmilk, although she did say that donations have increased slightly.
"We've had a few inquiries and as far as the supply, we've had a few more donors sign up; maybe a little bit more than usual," Festival said. "Typically, we see about 20 a week, and we're probably seeing about 25 moms that would like to be to donate their excess breast milk.
"75 per cent of the milk that we collect from our donor mothers actually goes to the neonatal intensive care units. That milk goes to the most fragile babies, some of them are [at] 21-22 weeks gestational age," she said.
The remaining 25 per cent of the milk that is donated is then sent home with infants who are later discharged from intensive care units.
"Once those babies get more healthy, and they're discharged, from the hospital and they've been on donor milk for their entire stay; if mom hasn't been able to establish her milk supply, the donor milk is much easier to digest."
Apart from donating infant formula, P. has also donated her breast milk privately, citing that milk bank rules are quite stringent.
"One of my friends told me about a group called Human Milk 4 Human Babies - Alberta. I put up a post saying that I had a stash and I had a lot of moms reach out to me. The last time that I donated was probably a good three or four weeks ago."
P. observed that while there has always been some demand for breast milk donation, she believes the demand has spiked recently.
"I definitely think it's gotten greater with the recall because now some moms just aren't trusting and frankly I don't blame them."
Jannette Festival wrote that she believes the correlation between the increase in donations to the milk bank is related mainly due to the media and the education process that happens.
"Moms are troopers and they want to help to feed babies in need. If they are successfully breastfeeding many of them want to share in the health. They move mountains for us!"
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