SALT LAKE CITY — Utah's plentiful population of babies also means a plethora of lactating mothers who can help feed newborn and pre-term babies all over the country thanks to Utah clinic that collects, stores and ships the nutritious milk.

"There comes a point where your freezer is just not big enough," said Christy Porucznik, a co-director of the new Mother's Milk Bank satellite location now open at the University of Utah's Redwood Health Center.

Porucznik said many mothers work outside of the home and are using a pump to express milk throughout the day to keep up their supply. Often times they take home more milk than their baby will drink, leaving an excess in their freezer at home. While that milk is good up to about six months, babies throughout the country and in Utah might be in dire need of human milk's nutrients in their first few weeks of life.

"Milk from milk banks is not intended to be a long-term replacement for a baby's own mother's milk," she said, adding that among other circumstances, it can sometimes take weeks for a mother's milk source to kick in.

Amanda Esko was breastfed when she was baby and had always expected she'd do the same for her own children someday. When that day came, however, breastfeeding proved to be more difficult for her and her tiny, tongue-tied infant.

"You have this new little person that all you want to do is feed," she said. Eventually, with help from lactation counselors and the local chapter of the La Leche League, Esko and her baby "had a healthy breastfeeding relationship."

Now that she has gone back to work, Esko is finding that she's producing more milk than her little 9-month-old baby needs, so she's planning to provide the leftover to the milk bank to help those in need.

Having a local venue for screening and drop-off just makes it more convenient, she said.

The Redwood Health Clinic is the only certified milk bank location in Utah where staff plans to store, package and ship collected milk from moms in the state to the Mother's Milk Bank location in Denver, which supplies neonatal intensive care units throughout the western states with quintessential breast milk.

Human milk is usually only available through a prescription and while the more than $3-per-ounce price tag is hefty, compared to a stay in the NICU the cost is barely a consideration, Porucznik said.

The Mother's Milk Bank strictly screens its donors, including a blood test, and then tests and pasteurizes donated milk before it is provided to babies who don't have access to it elsewhere. It is one of only 11 banks in the country, which Porucznik believes is a shame. Because of the many known benefits that come from feeding babies human milk, she hopes that someday, Utah has enough happy, healthy donors to justify its own bank.

"Babies who are in the NICU and are fed human milk often do better and are released sooner," Porucznik said. "Our guts are designed to digest human milk and a lot of times, for those medically fragile babies, it is just what they need to begin to thrive."

The new local donation site aims to reduce the barriers and personal costs of donation, including storage, delivery and postage costs associated with collecting and freezing excess breast milk. It was created partly in response to the recent call to support breastfeeding by U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, who encouraged communities "to identify and address obstacles to greater availability of safe-banked donor milk for fragile infants."

She said that while 75 percent of mothers start out breastfeeding their babies, only 13 percent of babies are exclusively breastfed after six months. While it can save families money, the primary benefits of breastfeeding are found in reduced numbers of infections and illnesses, as well as avoidance of various conditions, like asthma, obesity and sudden infant death syndrome, the surgeon general purports.

"It's really just a labor of love, something we can do for the community," Porucznik said.

Potential donors should call The Mother's Milk Bank at 877-458-5503 to begin the screening process. For more information, visit healthcare.utah.edu/redwood or e-mail milkdonation@utah.edu.

E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com