Minister Réjean Hébert announces the introduction of a bill to set up a breast milk bank

Québec City, March 27, 2013 – Réjean Hébert, Minister of Health and Social Services and Minister Responsible for Seniors, today announced the introduction of a bill to amend the Act Respecting Héma-Québec and the Haemovigilance Committee, the purpose of which is to allow Héma-Québec to create a public breast milk bank.

“The idea of creating a milk bank enjoys massive support from neonatologists, pediatricians, the Collège des médecins and many other groups and associations devoted to perinatal issues in Québec. This widespread consensus is primarily due to the fact that human milk is universally recognized as the only food that meets the nutritional and immunological needs of babies in the first six months of life,” said Minister Hébert.

Héma-Québec would make use of its experience and expertise in collecting, preparing and distributing human-derived products, including the application of measures aimed at ensuring the quality and safety of these products, to develop and administer a public breast milk bank serving Québec. To move forward, however, certain changes must be made in the Act.

“The provisions in the current law limit Héma-Québec’s power to take on new responsibilities outside of those related to blood, blood products, bone marrow and other human tissues. We want to amend the Act to enable Héma-Québec to set up and manage a breast milk bank for hospitalized premature infants, thereby taking advantage of its expertise, facilities and entire organizational structure to help preterm newborns in Québec,” Minister Hébert stated.

“The introduction of this bill is excellent news and has come about as the result of a request made in March 2011 by Héma-Québec. If the bill is approved in its current form, Héma-Québec will be able to start providing hospitals with pasteurized human milk, the safety and nutritional value of which is assured, in a few months’ time. The model would be integrated into Héma-Québec’s operations and therefore be adapted to the Québec context,” indicated Dr. Jean De Serres, Héma-Québec’s President and Chief Executive Officer.

The project to create a public breast milk bank would entail recruiting about 260 donors and processing and qualifying a sufficient quantity of breast milk to meet the needs of premature infants born at 32 weeks or earlier who cannot be nursed by their mother.

A wealth of concrete benefits

Among the benefits linked to the use of breast milk are reduced infections, allergies and blood pressure and improved bone development in newborns. Scientific literature also shows that premature babies fed breast milk from a bank are, on average, 3.3 times less prone to developing necrotizing enterocolitis than those given commercial formula. Necrotizing enterocolitis is a neonatal disease that affects the intestines. In some cases, it can lead to intestinal perforation and even death in premature babies born at 32 weeks or earlier. Necrotizing enterocolitis is associated with neonatal mortality rates in the 5% to 6% range.

In addition to procuring various health benefits and reduced mortality rates among premature infants, the implementation of a human milk bank is expected to generate annual savings for the health and social services system, given the anticipated decrease in the incidence of certain conditions associated with preterm babies and the fact that commercial formula would not need to be purchased. Québec’s 2008–2018 perinatal policy suggests the implementation of a human milk bank. The idea is a logical extension of national policies on supporting and promoting breastfeeding.

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Direction des communications
Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux du Québec

Public Affairs Division


Ariane Lareau
Press Attaché for the Minister of Health and Social Services and Minister Responsible for Seniors

Media line: 514-832-0871