PHOENIX - You've heard of blood banks, but have you heard of breast milk banks?

"It is like saving a life, same as giving blood," said Michelle Weller, a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) nurse at Phoenix Children's Hospital.

"You're giving your breast milk for a baby that might not be able to get his own mom's milk."

Milk banks take donated breast milk, process it and then return it to NICUs where it's seen as a precious resource for sick babies.

"We see a big difference with premature babies or sick babies, even term babies that are here in the hospital and are sick, they do much better with mom's own breast milk," Weller said.

If the babies are really sick or mom can't produce milk, doesn't want to, or can't produce enough, the NICU uses donated breast milk.

"When we started using breast milk for oral care, not just for feeding, but just to clean the babies mouth out every couple of hours, we saw that neurologically it seemed like the babies got better faster," Weller said.

Unfortunately, it's not that easy to come by. Donated breast milk has become a precious commodity for hospitals.

There are only 23 milk banks in the United States that are part of the Human Milk Bank Association of North America -- none of which are in Arizona, meaning local hospitals may come up short.

"There are only so many milk banks in the nation and they primarily provide milk for their own state," Weller said.
Phoenix's first donation center, The Milk Spot, just opened.

Prospective milk donors undergo a thorough screening and blood tests.

Once donated, the milk is shipped to Mother's Milk Bank, a nonprofit, in Colorado- where it processed and pasteurized, which eliminates viruses and bacteria.

It is then frozen and shipped back to hospitals-- including local Phoenix NICUs.

"So mothers who donate here can know their milk is coming back here to help the babies in the NICU," said Michelle Hottya, a board certified lactation consultant at The Milk Spot.

If you are interested in donating, or learning more, you can go to The Milk Spot website or call 303-869-1888.