Infant mortality in Western Pennsylvania is more than 17 percent higher than the national average, with significant disparities between white and African American babies. To combat these statistics and improve the health of newborns in the region, the Three Rivers Mothers’ Milk Bank will begin accepting donations of breast milk and distributing them to medical facilities. Executive director Denise O’Connor says she thought it was important that Pittsburgh offered this service and has already had 90 women sign up to donate.
Infants that require donated milk are usually born prematurely and often weigh less than three pounds.
“That’s the exact population we’re going to be serving.”
O’Connor explained that the women undergo a four-part screening similar to the process for donating blood or plasma. Often these are lactating mothers who have more milk than their own child needs or women who have experienced a loss.
This summer Children’s Hospital and UPMC Magee switched from formula to donor milk. O’Connor says she’ll work with researchers there to compare mortality rates from before the switch to after. She noted that other states with milk banks have gotten to the point where they offer donated milk to babies born only slightly premature, or for full term infants whose mothers may have had a c-section and weren’t ready to produce milk.
The Three Rivers Mothers’ Milk Bank is funded by a number of Pittsburgh foundations who O’Connor says were “very interested in lower that infant mortality rate.” She and her colleagues were able to raise money for the Milk Bank about two years ago and is set to open this month along Penn Avenue in the Strip District.
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