By John McDevitt

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia has announced plans to open a breast milk bank next summer.

“Human milk can be the difference between life and death,” says Dr. Diane Spatz, director of lactation at CHOP.

She notes that breast milk can be especially beneficial to critically ill newborns.

“Human milk is the one thing that we know can navigate a baby safely through the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) stay or the hospital stay,” she tells KYW Newsradio.  “We know that human milk protects the baby from diseases such as necrotizing enterocolitis.  Nec is a very serious bowel disease where the bowel basically dies.”

There are only 17 breast milk banks currently in the US and Canada, with the closest one to Philadelphia in Ohio.

Spatz says an on-site breast milk bank will streamline the lengthy pasteurizing and preparation process, and  make it easier to accept breast milk donations.