Mountain West Mothers' Milk Bank has opened a new facility in Salt Lake City and is now providing much-needed pasteurized human milk for preterm babies. The milk bank is one of only 28 fully operational accredited human milk banks in the United States and the only one in Utah. Intermountain Healthcare and University of Utah Health are both founding sponsors of the new facility; they each contributed $250,000 to help the new facility get started.

The facility will process more than 100 gallons of milk each month.

At any given time, the state’s largest NICUs have up to 60 babies each who would benefit from donated milk. With the new human milk pasteurization facility, donated breast milk can be sent directly to Utah babies through an efficient process that ensures an adequate milk supply.

Before the Utah facility opened, milk donated in Utah was shipped to a hub in Atlanta, then redirected to Denver. In Denver, it was processed and then returned to Salt Lake City. The long shipping process put the milk at risk of thawing and becoming contaminated.

Utah has been expanding the number of donation stations for years while it worked toward opening its own milk bank. At the new pasteurizing facility, milk is collected from about 550 lactating donors — usually new moms who are overproducing breast milk. The donors undergo screening and obtain approval from their doctors and the pediatricians of any other children they’re nursing.

Donated milk is collected and frozen at collection centers around Utah, including at multiple Intermountain facilities, then it’s taken to the facility in South Salt Lake. There it’s sorted, thawed, treated, then frozen again before distribution to babies in need.

“This accomplishment has been many years in the making and comes as the result of many hardworking people in our community dedicated to bringing a fully-functioning milk bank to Utah to provide for the tiniest, most fragile babies in local and regional NICUs,” said Elizabeth Smith, board chair of the Mountain West Mothers’ Milk Bank. “None of this would be possible without more than 500 donor moms who over the years have generously shared their breast milk to help save the lives of preemie babies.”