Lisa Shepherd cuddles her 19-week-old son Mitchell, at her home in Sanford earlier this week. Shepherd, who is nursing her son, underwent a screening process so she could donate her extra milk to Milk Bank Northeast, which distributes pasteurized human milk to neonatal intensive care units in hospitals. Soon she’ll be able to drop off her frozen milk at a new Southern Maine Milk Depot at Metta Yoga Studio in Biddeford. TAMMY WELLS/Journal Tribune

BIDDEFORD — Nursing mothers in York County who have extra breast milk will soon be able to help babies who need it, when the Southern Maine Milk Depot opens Friday evening at Metta Yoga Studio at Suite 136 in the Pepperell Mill, 40 Main St., Biddeford.

Very simply, the depot is a location where milk donors, who have been screened, can drop off frozen milk for shipment to a regional milk bank where it is pasteurized and tested before it is distributed.

The milk goes to infants in neonatal intensive care units, whose own mothers do not have enough milk for them, said lactation consultant and registered nurse Donna Ellis, an organizer of the milk depot.

Lisa Shepherd of Sanford, who is nursing her 19-week old son Mitchell, said she had trouble feeding her little boy when he was born — he was a few weeks premature, so she saw a lactation consultant. Mitchell soon learned the ropes, but nature was bountiful.

“I had all this extra milk and nothing to do with it,” said Shepherd, noting her doctor jokingly told her that her body was acting like she’d had triplets. She was pumping milk every three hours, 12 ounces at a time, but Mitchell consumes only about five ounces at a feeding.

Shepherd learned about Mother’s Milk Bank Northeast, which is based in Newton Upper Falls, Massachusetts, from her lactation consultant, Janice Lessard, and under went the screening process. She freezes extra milk that is then picked up by a package carrier and delivered to the Massachusetts milk bank for processing. So far, Shepard has donated about 2,400 ounces, she said, which translates to about 18 gallons.

Advertisement

With the opening Friday of Southern Maine Milk Depot at Metta Studios, Shepherd will be able to drop off her frozen milk there; which she said will be more convenient for her than making arrangements with the carrier.

According to a 2017 article  published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, human milk provides health benefits for all newborn infants but is of particular importance for high-risk babies, especially those born with very low birth weight.

“Donor milk banks represent a safe and effective approach to obtaining, pasteurizing, and dispensing human milk for use in NICUs and other settings,” the AAP went on to say.

Ellis said donor milk is becoming the standard supplement to mothers’ milk for preterm infants in neonatal intensive care units.

“Human milk can be lifesaving for preterm infants,” said Ellis. “It is especially protective against a life-threatening condition called necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), which affects one in 10 of the smallest preterm infants. Human breast milk is estimated to lower the risk of this condition by 79 percent.”

She said an increasing number of community hospitals with regular and special care nurseries use donor milk when babies need a supplement to their mothers’ own milk.

Advertisement

She said the screening process includes a health history, physician approval, and a blood test, and, she pointed out, milk from mothers who pass the screening is also pasteurized and tested by an independent lab to ensure safety before being dispensed to hospitals or families.

Cynthia Cohen, director of client relations for  the nonprofit  Mothers Milk Bank Northeast, estimated the milk received and processed by the milk bank goes to 90 hospitals in the Northeast region.

In the southern half of Maine, there are a handful of depots where milk can be dropped off: at Maine Medical Center in Portland, Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston and  the Miles campus of Lincoln Health in Damariscotta. Soon, there will be two more, in the Penobscot Bay and  midcoast regions of Maine, and at Metta, in Biddeford.

Cohen said the milk is collected, shipped and processed in accordance with federal FDA and CDC guidelines.

The Southern Maine Milk Depot will open with a gathering at 6 p.m. on Friday at Metta Yoga Studio, which has the donated space for the depot. Central Furniture and Appliance of Sanford has donated a 7-cubic foot freezer for milk storage, and Lisa Mae Parker of “Cakes for All Seasons” in Biddeford is providing a celebratory cake for Friday’s event.

Metta, said Ellis, also provides space for a local La Leche League meetings and conducts a variety of yoga classes, including prenatal and postpartum.

Advertisement

Families, prospective milk donors, health care providers, and community members are welcome to attend the family friendly celebration, which will include a ribbon-cutting, cake, and information on how nursing mothers can donate milk, Ellis said.

Cohen said as well as a drop-off location, milk depots also serve an educational piece, and send a message.

“Your milk can save other babies lives,” she said.

Shepherd, cuddling Mitchell, said she’s happy to help.

“I have all this milk I’m not using. It’s nice it can go to someone who needs it,” she said.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 780-9016 or [email protected]

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: