Breast milk processing

Pittsburgh breast milk bank could open in Strip District by fall

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (May 6, 2015) – Funding continues apace, a location has been located and would-be donors are ready to donate, all of which is coalescing nicely for a late summer or early fall opening of the Three Rivers Mothers’ Milk Bank, set to be the first breast milk bank in Pennsylvania.

Denise O’Connor, the founder and president of the nonprofit organization, said she is gratified by the interest in the milk bank, which primarily will provide donated breast milk to the “sickest of the sick” babies in neonatal intensive-care units throughout Pennsylvania and West Virginia when milk from their own mothers is not available. The remaining 15 to 20 percent of the breast milk will be distributed to outpatient babies who also need breast milk from someone other than their mother because of allergies or other maladies.

Ms. O’Connor, who for more than a decade worked as a lactation consultant, said the foundations and individuals who have donated $600,000 — half from the Hillman Foundation — are committed to working toward a goal of eliminating the bad effects that occur when premature babies do not receive human milk. While donor milk that is frozen and pasteurized doesn’t have all the immunity-boosting benefits of fresh milk from babies’ own mothers, it is still recommended over formula.

[quote]“This is proven to be a very cost-effective way to lower infant morbidity and mortality, as well as preventing illness and lifelong disability,” she said.[/quote]

While breast milk is considered beneficial for all babies, it is potentially lifesaving for preterm infants. In 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended donated breast milk as the “standard of care” for babies who weigh less than 3.4 pounds when milk from their own mothers is not available. None of the four neonatal intensive-care units in Pittsburgh hospitals currently provides donor milk to preterm infants.

Studies have shown that babies who receive human milk instead of formula have decreased rates of infection, shorter neonatal intensive-care unit stays and fewer incidences of necrotizing enterocolitis, a dangerous stomach infection that primarily affects low-weight premature babies.

The organization has secured a lease at 3127 Penn Ave., Strip District, where it will build out its laboratory, offices and classroom space in the 5,000-square-foot space. Ms. O’Connor said at least another $150,000 in donations is needed by the organization, noting the two pasteurizing units alone, which are only available from England, cost $40,000 each.

Women regularly are contacting the organization, willing to donate their breast milk. Ms. O’Connor said screening of donors will begin about three weeks before the operation is up and running. Screening will involve a brief telephone interview, filling out detailed health questionnaires and a blood draw for testing similar to donations to a blood bank.

The Pittsburgh mothers’ milk bank expects to distribute about 50,000 ounces of breast milk its first year and more thereafter, Ms. O’Connor said. Milk banks fund themselves by charging hospitals per ounce of milk. The experiences of other milk banks nationally indicate that they become self-sustaining after three years of operation.

There currently are 18 active milk banks in the U.S. and Canada, according to the Human Milk Banking Association of North America. The organization recognized the Three Rivers Mothers’ Milk Bank and one at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia among 10 developing milk banks.

Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia plans to keep the milk it receives and processes for babies in-house, leaving the Pittsburgh-based milk bank as the only one serving the entire state.


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