PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – When the smallest and sickest of premature babies needs lifesaving breast milk, where can he turn to?
The closest option to Pittsburgh right now is Columbus, Ohio.
“It’s expensive,” said Dr. Alan Lantzy, a neonatologist at West Penn Hospital. “We have attempted to import banked milk from Columbus, but it was very expensive, about four-and-a-half dollars an ounce, that at this moment, neither UPMC insurance or Highmark pays extra for.”
Area Neonatal Intensive Care Unit directors are enthusiastic for a local option found by lactation consultant Denice O’Connor.
“All the NCIUs that do use donor milk at this point are on the eastern side of the state, so this is actually something new for western Pennsylvania.”
What would be new will be called the Three Rivers Mothers’ Milk Bank, a project O’Connor is coordinating right here in Pittsburgh.
The West Penn Hospital neonatologist has seen the devastating effect the lack of breast milk has – namely a potentially deadly infection in a premature baby’s intestines
“About 10 percent are at risk for getting necrotizing entercolitis,” Lantzy said. “It goes in half or less if you use breast milk.”
Formula does not have this effect.
A Magee neonatologist has high hopes.
“That we are able to send home families with happy, healthy babies,” said Dr. Kendra Ardell.
Just like with blood banking, donors have to be screened and tested for drugs and infections. That will require staff and resources. A new milk bank will also need to pasteurize and store the donated milk. That will require space and equipment.
“We’ll need to raise between $200 and $300,000,” Ardell said.
The West Penn Hospital medical staff gave the initial contribution of $5,000.
For now, O’Connor is taking donations and applying for grants under the non-profit status of the Midwife center of Pittsburgh, until the Three Rivers Mothers’ Milk Bank can get its own 501c status.
O’Connor has received official word from the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, that her organization, incorporated in October, has met the preliminary requirements to proceed.
“We are an officially developing milk bank,” O’Connor said.
The officially developing milk bank does not have official space yet. They are looking at setting up at a local university or maybe even in donated space — somewhere neutral and easily accessible by all NICU hospitals in Pittsburgh and beyond.