ShareThis Page

Westmoreland women donate breast milk to help others

Mary Pickels
| Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017, 6:15 p.m.
Denise O'Connor (second from left), executive director of Three Rivers Mothers Milk Bank, welcomes donor moms (from left) Brea Sikora and daughter, Avery, 6 months, Denise O’Connor,  Jill Piccolo and daughter, Mia, 9 months, and Abigail Davis and her daughter, Naomi, 6 months. It was opening day of the Three Rivers Mothers Milk Bank drop off site, at Excela Square at Norwin, in North Huntingdon Township, on Monday, July 31, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Denise O'Connor (second from left), executive director of Three Rivers Mothers Milk Bank, welcomes donor moms (from left) Brea Sikora and daughter, Avery, 6 months, Denise O’Connor, Jill Piccolo and daughter, Mia, 9 months, and Abigail Davis and her daughter, Naomi, 6 months. It was opening day of the Three Rivers Mothers Milk Bank drop off site, at Excela Square at Norwin, in North Huntingdon Township, on Monday, July 31, 2017.
Abigail Davis, 24, of Mount Pleasant is happy she is able to donate to the new milk bank depot at Excela Square at Norwin while continuing to nurse daughter Naomi Davis, 6 months.
Mary Pickels | Tribune-Review
Abigail Davis, 24, of Mount Pleasant is happy she is able to donate to the new milk bank depot at Excela Square at Norwin while continuing to nurse daughter Naomi Davis, 6 months.
Brea Sikora, 25, of Irwin, visits the new breast milk bank depot at Excela Square at Norwin with her daughter, Avery Sikora, 6 months.
Mary Pickels | Tribune-Review
Brea Sikora, 25, of Irwin, visits the new breast milk bank depot at Excela Square at Norwin with her daughter, Avery Sikora, 6 months.
Jill Piccolo, 29, of Unity makes a drop-off donation at Excela Square at Norwin's new breast milk depot with daughter Mia Piccolo, 9 months. 'I feel blessed to be able to do this,' she says.
Mary Pickels | Tribune-Review
Jill Piccolo, 29, of Unity makes a drop-off donation at Excela Square at Norwin's new breast milk depot with daughter Mia Piccolo, 9 months. 'I feel blessed to be able to do this,' she says.
Nurse Darla Klein, places breast milk in a freezer, during the opening day of the Three Rivers Mothers Milk Bank drop off site, at Excela Square at Norwin, in North Huntingdon Township, on Monday, July 31, 2017. Three mothers, dropped off a combined 645 ounces of breast milk at the Excela site, that was then transported to Pittsburgh for pasteurization and distribution to neo natal care facilities around the region.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Nurse Darla Klein, places breast milk in a freezer, during the opening day of the Three Rivers Mothers Milk Bank drop off site, at Excela Square at Norwin, in North Huntingdon Township, on Monday, July 31, 2017. Three mothers, dropped off a combined 645 ounces of breast milk at the Excela site, that was then transported to Pittsburgh for pasteurization and distribution to neo natal care facilities around the region.
Three mothers dropped off a combined 645 ounces of breast milk  during the opening day of the Three Rivers Mothers Milk Bank drop off site, at Excela Square at Norwin, in North Huntingdon Township, on Monday, July 31, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Three mothers dropped off a combined 645 ounces of breast milk during the opening day of the Three Rivers Mothers Milk Bank drop off site, at Excela Square at Norwin, in North Huntingdon Township, on Monday, July 31, 2017.
Denise O'Connor (second from left), executive director of Three Rivers Mothers Milk Bank, talks to Mia Piccolo, 9 months, and her mom Jill of Unity, during the opening day of the Three Rivers Mothers Milk Bank drop off site, at Excela Square at Norwin, in North Huntingdon Township, on Monday, July 31, 2017.
Dan Speicher | Tribune-Review
Denise O'Connor (second from left), executive director of Three Rivers Mothers Milk Bank, talks to Mia Piccolo, 9 months, and her mom Jill of Unity, during the opening day of the Three Rivers Mothers Milk Bank drop off site, at Excela Square at Norwin, in North Huntingdon Township, on Monday, July 31, 2017.

The blue Igloo cooler holding 645 ounces of "liquid gold" — human breast milk — represents the first donation to the new milk bank depot at Excela Square at Norwin.

The local women providing the milk say they appreciate the opportunity to help other newborns, and the fact that they can now make their volunteer donations without shipping or driving them to the Three Rivers Mothers' Milk Bank, a nonprofit located in Pittsburgh's Strip District.

What many new mothers anticipate as that first special moment of bonding, when they nourish their newborns with their own breast milk, can sometimes instead lead to moments of frustration, or even sadness.

For numerous reasons, some mothers are unable to nurse, or cannot produce sufficient amounts for their child.

And although some women lose their babies, their bodies continue to respond, producing milk their child will not use.

Donating expressed milk to feed another child is a gift some mothers choose to give.

And as of this week, women who live closer to Westmoreland than Allegheny County can now more easily volunteer to make those donations.

By serving as a breast milk bank depot, Excela Square at Norwin is providing a local drop-off spot for moms who have been accepted into the Three Rivers donation program.

Denise O'Connor is executive director of the Three Rivers Mothers' Milk Bank.

"We serve all of Pittsburgh, West Virginia, parts of New Jersey and Maryland," O'Connor says.

Human milk is particularly important for babies in neonatal intensive care units, she says.

Each year, nearly 11 percent of 140,000 babies born in Pennsylvania and West Virginia are born prematurely. One of the biggest health challenges facing those 15,000 infants is necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a serious inflammation of the intestines that can lead to surgery, poor long-term outcomes and even death. Human milk has been proven to decrease the risk of NEC by 80 percent, according to the milk bank.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breast feeding for at least the first six months, if possible.

Donor milk may be prescribed for various reasons, including infant prematurity, allergies, gastrointestinal conditions or failure to thrive.

Via prescription or hospital order, donor milk is provided to babies. Some of those costs may be covered by a family's health insurance

Donors are screened and their milk pasteurized before delivery, says O'Connor.

"Last year, we distributed 57,000 ounces of (donated) milk. We surpassed that by July of this year," she says.

"This is definitely more convenient than going to Pittsburgh. I feel better about it. I know it gets here safely," says Abigail Davis, 24, of Mount Pleasant.

The mother of Naomi Davis, 6 months, she learned about the milk bank from a friend who is a NICU nurse.

"I love knowing that we are helping someone else," Davis says.

"I had so much milk, it's a shame to dump it down the drain," says Brea Sikora, 25, of Irwin, bouncing 6-month-old Avery Sikora.

"We want healthy babies everywhere," she says.

Mia Piccolo, 9 months, developed a dairy allergy at three months, meaning she could not use milk her mother, Jill Piccolo, 29, of Unity, had pumped and frozen.

Now following a dairy-free diet, Piccolo learned from her sister that the milk bank had a need for dairy-free donations.

"I feel very blessed to be able to do that," she says.

O'Connor says there are certain situations or conditions that prevent or delay a woman from immediately nursing her newborn.

"Early delivery might put lactation at risk. Mom may be on medication. She may have had a mastectomy ... gestational diabetes, a low supply. The bulk of reasons mom may need donor milk are short-lived," O'Connor says.

Angie Kovachik, 32, of North Huntingdon nursed her second son, Blake, 1, until he developed an allergy to her milk.

Her pediatrician recommended a special formula for him, and Kovachik was left with a freezer full of pumped milk.

An online search led her to Three Rivers, and she donated her frozen supply, driving it to the Pittsburgh site.

"I was really intrigued by what they did. ... I was hoping someone else could at least benefit from it," she says.

Several of her friends have donated as well, and Kovachik says it will be an option should she have a third child and extra milk.

She hopes word will spread and the new location will encourage more women in the area to consider donating as well.

About 20-25 percent of donor milk is provided to babies on an out-patient basis.

Parents who adopt are an example of an elective need, O'Connor says, and they may purchase donor milk for their child.

Bereaved mothers contribute about 5-10 percent of the milk bank's donations.

"It can be healing. There is no right or wrong," O'Connor says.

The new location, she says, "is perfect."

"I think it will be great for women in (this) area," O'Connor says.

Donors can contribute milk pumped on or before an infant's first birthday.

Michelle Kozubal, 40, of Hempfield, delivered her first child, Cole Scheuermann, now 15 months, six weeks early.

"It was my hope and prayer that I could (nurse). ... Not only did I produce a lot of milk, I produced more than enough. We had to buy a deep freezer to store the milk," she says.

Because her son was premature, he spent time in Excela Health Westmoreland's special care nursery.

At that time, Three Rivers Mothers' Milk Bank was the only regional source to donate.

By her son's first birthday, she had frozen and shipped close to 2,000 ounces, she says.

A teacher in the Hempfield Area School District, Kozubal says she is pleased area women will have a closer location to help offer babies a healthy start to life.

And should she have another child, she likely will continue to donate to the milk bank.

"He (Cole) is healthy as a horse. I want other kids to have that, too," she says.

Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MaryPickels.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.