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Utah's First Breast Milk Donation Bank Opens

Neonatologists call breast milk “liquid gold” because of the immunity it provides newborns. But not every new mother can provide “liquid gold” for her newborn so they seek it elsewhere.

Admittedly, the thought of using someone else’s breast milk to feed my baby initially weirded me out. But the more I read about it the more I realize what a beautiful act it really is. Kind of like that closing scene in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, or Salma Hayek whipping out a boob and breast feeding a starving child in Sierra Leone. I still can’t watch that video without tearing up.

A co-worker of mine who has adopted three or four kids – I can’t remember the exact number because he has a lot of kids – told me about how he and his wife bought breast milk from a woman to nurse their adopted newborns.  They bought it “under the table”, no less.  It cracked me up to think of this big breast milk black market type bootleg operation going on.  But hey, this is Utah, after all.  There are a lot of kids here.

Adoptions are one reason people seek out the donated breast milk.  Many times mothers can’t provide the milk themselves, perhaps because their baby was delivered prematurely — before the mother’s breast tissue prepares for nursing, typically in the last trimester of pregnancy. Also, some women simply are not able to produce milk.

That’s where these donation centers come in.  Now, Utah has opened its very first breast milk donation bank.  Until now, the only way to donate the milk was for mothers to ship it in dry ice to Colorado, said Rebecca Bingham of University of Utah Health Care.

Mother’s Milk Bank at Presbyterian St. Luke’s hospital in Denver is one of only 10 milk banks in the country that collects breast milk from mothers across the country and delivers it to sick and premature babies. The milk bank sells breast milk for $3.50 per ounce to the hospitals around the country. Thanks to grant funding, the nonprofit bank usually breaks even. The bank also gives a portion of its milk away free. In other words, if a baby needs milk, it gets it.

The donated milk is ordered by prescription from physicians.  “Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo is the biggest user of banked milk,” said Christy Porucznik, co-director of The Mothers’ Milk Donation Center in Salt Lake City.  UVRMC uses 5,000 ounces of prescription, pasteurized human milk a year, hospital spokesman Dane DeHart told the Daily Herald.

One mother whose baby is now receiving milk from the bank had a double mastectomy before her third child was born. Another baby girl receiving donated milk was adopted by two gay men. Her milk is pumped by Lisa Crane, a Denver woman who has her own 7-month-old son, Elliott. Crane pumps each night after Elliott is in bed, collecting 3 to 5 ounces in bottles delivered to her home by the milk bank. The hospital picks up her frozen milk every few weeks.

This new donation bank in Utah doesn’t take Denver out of the equation, but it makes the process a lot easier for donating mothers. Unlike the old method, where mothers had to package their milk in dry ice and mail it at their own expense, the new donation bank in Utah handles all the logistics and there is no cost to donating mothers. The Redwood Health Center in Salt Lake City takes the donated breast milk and will ship it to a processing plant in Denver. It’s then shipped back to Utah where it is prescribed by doctors.

The need for donors is ongoing but the screening process is strict. Basic qualifications include being a non-smoker in good health, not regularly using medications, limited use of caffeine, and a 12-hour waiting period after use of alcohol.

What a cool thing.  Not weird at all, as I originally thought.  Kind of like donating blood but even better, because the liquid gold is going to sweet, little newborns.  What’s better than that?

Potential donors should call The Mothers’ Milk Bank in Denver at (877) 458-5503 to begin the screening process.

For more information, visit healthcare.utah.edu/redwood or e-mail milkdonation@utah.edu.

Photo: the Daily Herald

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