The much-anticipated Three Rivers Mothers’ Milk Bank, which will provide donated breast milk to babies in Pennsylvania and West Virginia, is preparing for a November opening. And more than 50 women have already signed up to donate, organizers said.

“The community has been extremely supportive and receptive as we’ve moved closer to opening,” says Denise O’Connor, Three Rivers Mothers’ Milk Bank executive director. “We are amazed and humbled by the number of women who have already reached out to us hoping to donate their milk.”

Donor milk ready for distribution. Photo courtesy of Three Rivers Mothers’ Milk Bank
Donor milk ready for distribution. Photo courtesy of Three Rivers Mothers’ Milk Bank

Fourteen other states have milk banks according to the Human Milk Banking Association of North America. This will be the first in Pennsylvania, and will provide pasteurized milk from screened donors to neonatal intensive care units, hospitals and patients. The Three Rivers Mothers’ Milk Bank gained 501 (c)(3) status last year, and raised more than $760,000 in funding from Pittsburgh businesses and foundations, including $11,000 in an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign.

The milk bank will be located in a renovated warehouse on Penn Avenue in the Strip District, and will have freezers and pasteurizers on site.

Prospective milk donors will be asked to provide their health and medical history, and will undergo blood screenings like those performed at blood donor banks. Donors also will be asked for statements from their health care providers. Once approved, women can pump milk at home and bring it to the bank, where it will be pasteurized to remove pathogens. The process will not destroy the properties of the milk that provide key immunological benefits for babies, however.

“We encourage any woman interested in donating their milk to reach out to us with any questions they might have,” says O’Connor, who is also a certified lactation consultant. “For babies in need, their donated milk can be life-saving.”

NEXT staff

The staff at NEXTpittsburgh writes about the people driving change in the region and the innovative and cool things happening here.