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PORTLAND -- The first donor human milk bank in the Northwest is now up and running and it's right here in Portland.

It s taken five years of fundraising and a lot of hard work and determination, but Thursday the Northwest Mothers Milk Bank officially opened its doors.

Despite the fact that Oregon has one of the highest rates of breast-feeding in the nation, up until now, the closest milk banks were in San Jose and Colorado.

Now, mothers can come to the non-profit s Southwest Portland office to donate their extra breast milk.

That milk is then screened, pasteurized and distributed to area hospitals for premature and sick babies whose mothers do not have sufficient milk.

Human breast milk is critical for the health and development of medically fragile babies, said Joanne Ransom, co-executive director of the Northwest Mothers Milk Bank.

In the newborn, it really helps to shorten their hospital stay and decrease their risk of very serious illnesses, she said. Especially for the fragile premature infants.

Although the milk will go to area neonatal units first, the remainder will be available for families to buy.

The cost is $4.50 per ounce, which the organization said only partially covers the cost of treating it. But it said there are charitable groups that will help families cover those costs if needed.

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