Angel works on the fourth floor of an aging brick high-rise, at the end of a dim, narrow hallway. The windows of her office look out onto a leafy courtyard where physicians and support staff bustle in white jackets and scrubs. The noise she makes nearly drowns out all sounds of conversation in the room.
Angel is a squat silver chest about waist-high. She is the $100,000 milk pasteurizer imported from England to Norfolk, Virginia. At North America’s newest milk bank at the Children’s Hospital for the King’s Daughters, Angel sterilizes around 2,000 ounces of milk every week, Monday through Friday.
The manager of the hospital’s Mother’s Milk Bank, Ashlynn Baker, gave Angel her nickname because she kills deadly microbes that can sometimes be found in donor milk, playing a key role in the process that takes milk from donating mothers and gets it to babies in hospital. Donors can bring their milk in person or freeze it and have it shipped overnight in a cooler at no cost.
“We get donors from up and down the east coast,” says Baker. “It really blows my mind.”
North America is currently home to 19 milk banks, with nine more opening their doors soon. The Human Milk Banking Association of North America, which helps to run and accredit these banks, has gone from dispensing around 400,000 ounces of pasteurized donor human milk per year in 2000 to 3.8 million ounces in 2014. John Honaman, its Executive Director, says that the rise is due to both an increase in awareness of the health benefits of breast milk and an increase in the number of preterm infants who need donated milk.