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'Breast Milk Banks' Gain in Popularity

Experts say they're safer than online milk-sharing sources

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One of the milk bank's donors, Dr. Emily Puterbaugh, volunteered because she's a pediatrician who had seen the benefits of breast milk for struggling babies.

"I had an oversupply," said Puterbaugh, 33, of Portland's Multnomah Village area. "Realizing I was going to have more milk than I needed for my baby, the first thing I thought of was the milk bank. I figured some of this milk could be used for other babies in need."

Becoming a volunteer donor wasn't simple. Puterbaugh had to fill out an extensive medical history for herself and her 6-month-old daughter, Nina, and get both her doctor and Nina's pediatrician to sign off on her capability to donate. She also underwent a blood screening to check for infectious diseases.

Part of the challenge the new milk banks face is getting the word out to mothers, Updegrove said.

"I meet people almost weekly who say, 'I wish I knew about the milk banks because I ended up throwing out a gallon of milk,'" she said. "I long to hear milk banking has become as common as blood banking, where everybody knows about it."

Another problem is money. Although the breast milk is donated, the banks rack up expenses as they screen donors, operate milk drops, process the milk and ship it to hospitals and families.

The Northwest Mothers Milk Bank currently charges $4.50 an ounce for breast milk to break even, although it has a charitable care program to help families who can't afford the fee, Mondeaux said.

More often than not, Medicaid programs and private health insurance companies won't cover the cost of breast milk, neonatologist Landers said.

"We're not where we need to be in paying for something that we know has definitive benefits," she said. "Why aren't we paying for something we know is extremely beneficial? Why are we making the hospitals eat the cost?"

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