Milk bank Lab

Pittsburgh Milk Bank director: ‘Donor milk is lifesaving medicine’

Tribune-Review (March 19, 2020) – The head of a Pittsburgh breast milk bank is encouraging healthy mothers to donate milk to families in need, as demand increases during the coronavirus pandemic.

Denise O’Connor is executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Mothers’ Milk Bank, based in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. “Donor milk is lifesaving medicine for thousands of babies across our region,” she said. “Now more than ever.”

The milk bank is a nonprofit that collects breast milk from carefully screened donors, processes and pasteurizes the milk, and provides it to hospitals and families.

Below are some questions O’Connor answered for the Tribune-Review.

Question: What is milk banking and why does it matter during the covid-19 crisis?

Answer: When a mother’s own milk isn’t available, banked pasteurized human milk, from carefully screened volunteer donors, is the next best thing. Human milk provides critical nutrients for growing babies. This is especially true for medically fragile infants, such as premature infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

For these babies, donor milk decreases rates of serious, sometimes fatal complications and can be lifesaving medicine. During the covid-19 crisis, the donor milk needs in our region’s NICUs continue and may even increase.

Q: Who can be a milk donor?

A: Any mom who has a milk supply that exceeds the needs of her own baby and passes the screening process is welcome to become a donor. As the need for donor milk reaches a heightened level, the Mid-Atlantic Mothers’ Milk Bank is ramping up processes to meet the increased need. Parents who are interested in donating or have questions can learn more at

Q: How is donor milk safe during the covid-19 crisis?

A: The Mid-Atlantic Mothers’ Milk Bank strictly adheres to the rigorous safeguards set in place by our accrediting organization, the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA), including strict donor screening, milk pasteurization and third-party microbiological testing. These safeguards protect recipients from a multitude of pathogens and ensure safety for the fragile babies that are served by HMBANA accredited milk banks.

The pasteurization process used by all HMBANA milk banks inactivates many pathogens, including viruses similar to covid-19 such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome). There is no evidence indicating that covid-19 can be transmitted through breast milk.

In a recent, small study in China, six mothers who tested positive for covid-19 were studied after giving birth. No evidence of the virus was found in their samples of breast milk, cord blood, or amniotic fluid. The HMBNA website — — has details on donor milk safety and covid-19.

To protect the milk bank staff, donors and recipients, we have added additional policies, including heightened disinfection practices and allowing only staff members to enter the milk bank.

Q: How does someone contact the milk bank?

A: Our team is actively screening prospective donors and pasteurizing donor milk to meet the region’s hospitals’ increased need. Anyone who has questions can contact us at 412-281-4400 or email

Q: Should moms infected with covid-19 continue breastfeeding?

A: The immunological properties of human milk protect babies against many illnesses. Mothers who are breastfeeding should follow these CDC guidelines:

“Whether and how to start or continue breastfeeding should be determined by the mother in coordination with her family and health care providers. A mother with confirmed covid-19 or who is a symptomatic person under investigation should take all possible precautions to avoid spreading the virus to her infant, including washing her hands before touching the infant and wearing a face mask, if possible, while feeding at the breast.

“If expressing breast milk with a manual or electric breast pump, the mother should wash her hands before touching any pump or bottle parts and follow recommendations for proper pump cleaning after each use. If possible, consider having someone who is well feed the expressed breast milk to the infant.”

Read the full story here.