For premature babies, the early days of life are the most dangerous, not only because of the risk of infection and complications, but also because new mothers are often unable to breastfeed.

But infants born preterm in Quebec who cannot be breastfed by their mothers will now have access to donated pasteurized breast milk, through the Public Mother’s Milk Bank, which officially launched this week.

Like blood donations, the bank will rely on volunteers to supply breast milk to hospitals providing neonatal care to premature babies.

The goal is to find 300 donors a year -- one for each baby in need.

Anastasia Assimakopoulos, 24, said she decided to donate to the milk bank so that other newborns can benefit from nutrients found in breast milk.

“Breast milk is such an amazing thing, I mean, it’s made perfectly for our babies,” she told CTV Montreal.

Premature babies are often vulnerable to developing serious conditions like the gastrointestinal disease Necrotizing Enterocolitis, which Dr. Marc Germain of Hema-Quebec says can be mitigated through breast milk.

“Giving human milk as opposed to formula milk or artificial milk will decrease the risk of this condition,” Germain told CTV Montreal.

But not all mothers are able to breastfeed.

“Often when babies are born very premature or under difficult circumstances, it’s these mothers who have a hard time producing enough food for their babies,” lactation consultant Jennifer Welch told CTV Montreal.

There are three other milk banks across Canada, in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto, but the Public Mother’s Milk Bank -- created by Quebec’s blood agency Hema-Quebec -- is the first of its kind in North America to be operated by a provider of blood products.

In a news release on Tuesday, Dr. Jean De Serres, CEO of Hema-Quebec, said the milk bank will “benefit from Hema-Quebec’s established expertise in terms of the quality, safety and production of human-derived biological products.”

“Optimal resource management and access to products that meet stringent standards are the key advantages of having our organization oversee this type of operation,” he added.

With files from CTV Montreal’s Vanessa Lee