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Milk bank in Pittsburgh taking extra steps to protect babies amid COVID-19 pandemic

PITTSBURGH — Making sure vulnerable babies safely get the milk they need during the coronavirus pandemic, the Mid-Atlantic Mothers' Milk Bank in Pittsburgh is taking extra steps.

Helping babies in neonatal intensive care units, the milk bank is seeing more demand from the hospitals it serves for breast milk. That demand is anticipated to get bigger.

“We want to make sure that these parents and hospitals don’t have to fret about where their milk is coming from,” Denise O’Conner, the milk bank’s executive director, said.

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While trying to deliver as much milk as it can to hospitals and NICUs in the four states it serves, the milk bank has added an extra day of processing to test, bottle and pasteurize the breast milk.

“We know that the virus that causes COVID-19 is heat sensitive, and we know from other viruses like it, such as SARS, that it isn’t activated by the pasteurization process,” O’Conner said.

Because the babies only drink by the teaspoonful, the 26,000 ounces of breast milk donated monthly can go a long way -- helping thousands of babies each month.

O'Conner encourages mothers who are nursing babies 18 months old or younger to donate milk. Milk that has been in the freezer up to 8 months can also be donated.

The World Health Organization says nursing mothers can breastfeed, but should do everything to protect their infant, such as washing hands and even wearing a mask while breastfeeding.