We've had a lot of babies who either their moms don't have a good milk supply or they're ill. In the last couple of years, we've seen a rise in the number of babies that need the donor milk. —Amanda Ottley, Mother's Milk Depot coordinator

PROVO — Breastfeeding can be a challenge for new mothers who sometimes must rely on other sources to get human milk for their babies.

Some turn to milk banks, friends and even strangers. But health officials say it's risky to accept milk that hasn't been tested or pasteurized.

A new depot in Provo allows women with excess milk to make donations that will then be distributed to hungry babies in 24 states.

In Utah, there are three milk depots where mothers can take donated breast milk that is then sent to the Mother's Milk Bank in Denver to be cleaned and distributed.

The Provo site opened June 20 and received 1,000 ounces of donated breast milk in its first two weeks, said Amanda Ottley, Mother's Milk Depot coordinator. Since then, the depot has received another 500 ounces of milk with another 400 to 500 ounces in the freezer waiting to be shipped, she said.

Ottley said the depot was opened in the Utah County Health and Justice Building, 151 S. University Ave., because of an increase of patients in the neonatal intensive care unit at the Utah Valley Regional Medical Center.

"We've had a lot of babies who either their moms don't have a good milk supply or they're ill," she said. "In the last couple of years, we've seen a rise in the number of babies that need the donor milk."

Ottley said the more Utahns donate, the higher priority the state gets for receiving milk from the regional bank.

Dr. Jerald King, the director of a task force to create a milk bank in Utah, said breast milk donations in the state increased from 40,000 ounces in 2011 to around 60,000 ounces in 2012. Consumed donor milk also increased from 20,000 ounces in 2011 to 30,000 ounces in 2012.

King, a professor of pediatrics at the University of Utah specializing in neonatology, said mothers who give their breast milk to milk banks are screened for major communicable diseases. The milk is also tested and pasteurized. From there, the milk is frozen and shipped overnight to mothers and their babies.

Amanda Cooley has donated 22 gallons to the Mothers Milk Depot in Provo. She said she was producing more milk than her son could drink, so a nurse suggested she donate it.

“I’m helping other babies like my baby,” Cooley said. “I didn’t want to just dump it down the sink.”

Katie Skillin is a member of a Facebook group called Human Milk for Human Babies where she gets milk for her infant.

Skillin said she found out six years ago that she had insufficient glandular tissue, causing her to supply her fifth child, Eli, with only a fraction of the milk he needed.

“I always knew breast milk was best," she said, "and I always wanted to give them breast milk, but I just couldn’t.”

Eli was born 14 weeks premature in May and spent time in a neonatal intensive care unit.

“The only thing I could really do for him was give him mother’s milk,” she said.

He also needed special care. Eli, now almost 6 months old and a little more than 10 pounds, spent his first two weeks in the NICU. He has pseudarthrosis, which will require him to have a rod put in his leg when he starts walking, and Skillin said doctors are also watching for signs of gestational diabetes and neurofibromatosis type 1.

“This little man has a long, hard road ahead of him, and I’d like to give him as much breast milk as possible,” she said.

Through the Facebook group, she connected with a donor. Skillin became emotional as she described her relationship with the donor, who she now considers a friend.

“I almost feel like my baby has two moms,” she said. “These women are so selfless.”

Skillin said she has gone to her donor’s house to pick up more than 300 ounces of milk since June. Skillin drops off vegetables from her garden and picks up eggs from her donor’s chickens.

“It’s beautiful, I think,” she said. “When it’s anonymous, I don’t know who it’s coming from. I don’t feel quite as comfortable, even though it’s been through all those regulations.”

Cooley said she chose to go through the Mother's Milk Depot because she felt it protects the babies with milk regulations and herself by remaining anonymous.

"It's just a little bit of a safer way to go," she said.

Ottley said mothers should be careful where they go to get breast milk for their babies, and like other bodily fluids there should be some sort of regulation for breast milk.

“The idea behind sharing your breast milk with another mom is a great idea,” she said. “I think that we just have to be a little careful because you never know (everything about someone's lifestyle.)”

King said milk that hasn’t been processed through a milk bank has potential to transmit diseases or become contaminated during the process of pumping and storing the milk.

“They put their trust in that person and use the milk,” he said. “In the era of modern medicine, we do have other means to ensure the safety of the product, and that’s why milk banks have sprung up.”

Dr. Jessica Greenwood, assistant professor for the Division of Public Health at the University of Utah School of Medicine, said although mothers historically have exchanged milk, there is a benefit of going through a milk bank.

"In our day and age where there are so many infections and reactions to medications and foods that infants can get, the traditional means of finding your own milk donor is not as safe," Greenwood said.

In addition to the new breast milk depot in the Utah County Health Department, there is a depot in the Timpanogos Regional Hospital NICU in Orem, and King said there are plans to open another in the Dixie Regional Medical Center. There is also a depot site in the U.'s Redwood Health Center in Salt Lake City.

King said the task force is actively pursuing other sites in all hospitals that have a major ICU.

“Utah happens to have one of the highest breastfeeding rates in the country so there’s a lot of potential donors,” he said. “Moms don’t now that they can be a donor."

Email: eeagar@deseretnews.com

Twitter: EmileeEagar