PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Local intensive care units for newborns, called NICUs, used to have to turn to Columbus, Ohio for the nearest supply of banked breast milk.
Now, in the Strip District, Pittsburgh will have a milk bank of its own, supplying the NICUs of Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
"The minute your first piece aired, I had people emailing me," explains Denise O'Connor, executive director of the Three Rivers Mothers' Milk Bank, to KDKA's Dr. Maria about the need for a local breast milk bank.
It has been in the planning phase for a couple years now. Getting established as a non-profit, raising $800,000 and finding a space have been big challenges.
"We wanted a space that was large enough for us to grown into, but that was very affordable," she points out.
Then she found this space -- which will house a receiving area, sanitizing dishwashers, a number of pasteurizers, and refrigerators and freezers -- on Craig's List.
"It was that a-ha moment, we all said, 'Oh my gosh, this is it!'" she recalls.
Breast milk is best for preemies. It can help prevent certain complications, especially those affecting the intestines, the metabolism and the immune system.
The opening is expected in November, but already they're recruiting donors, and will need 40 donors a month.
They are screened to make sure they fulfill certain criteria, and are not paid.
"Bringing payment into it introduces safety and ethical concerns," she explains.
Nicole Mutnansky has already signed up. She had a premature baby, and extra breast milk. She wished she could have helped the other families in the NICU who needed more. But at that time, there was no where to go.
"You know you have the capacity to help someone else in need, you know that you're probably not going to use it all yourself, and it's just going to go to waste. I think it's a great thing now we're soon going to have something in place for these families in need, and these babies in need," says Nicole.
Once breast milk is pumped, it can be frozen, as Nicole has done.
It can then be dropped off or shipped for processing. The milk can be kept up to a year, but typically the demand exceeds the supply.
"The minute it gets processed, it gets shipped out and gets used," says O'Connor.
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