Dr. Ali Kopelman is opening a donor milk depot and dispensary at Personalized Pediatrics, her direct primary care practice. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

A Portland pediatrician’s office is making it easier for mothers having trouble producing breast milk to provide it to their babies.

Personalized Pediatrics of Maine, at 205 Ocean Ave., will open a donor milk depot and dispensary next week in partnership with Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast.

In 2020, Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast dispensed 522,137 ounces of donor milk across the Northeast. Contributed / Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast

Donor milk dispensaries are a “forward-thinking and innovative way” to ensure that as many babies as possible have access to human milk, said Ann Marie Lindquist, director of community relations for Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast.

It is particularly important, Lindquist said, to have a place where families can both donate and pick up milk.

The donor milk can serve as “a bridge” to future breastfeeding for the mother and baby or can serve as a supplement for formula feeding, said Dr. Ali Kopelman, a certified lactation consultant since 2017.

Emily Piller of Saco received donor milk for her baby in January at Maine Medical Center, one of the Maine hospitals supplied by Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast.

“My baby was born a month early and we spent a week in the hospital. Because I couldn’t go to the (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit), I was asked do I want donor milk or formula. I was adamant it would be breast milk,” Piller said. “The hospital gave me donor milk until I could produce milk. It was three days before I could do that.”

While Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast is “grateful” infant formula exists, Lindquist said, breast milk is “really important in the early days and early weeks” for a baby’s optimal health.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, 88% of babies born in Maine in 2017 were breastfed at some point, with close to 53% exclusively breastfed through three months and 28% through six months.

Prospective milk donors must undergo health history and blood test screenings. Milk from the accepted donors is pasteurized and tested by an independent lab for safety before being dispensed.

Maine Medical Center and other hospitals in the state provide donor milk to newborns who need it while they are in the hospital. Once a baby is discharged, however, a prescription is needed with two options for getting it filled: A parent can have a supply shipped from Massachusetts or pick it up at a dispensary. The closest Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast dispensary to the Portland area is in Lewiston.

In 2020, Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast dispensed 522,137 ounces of donor milk across the northeastern United States, an increase of more than 67,300 ounces from 2019. Since its start in 2011, the organization has screened 8,000 milk donors, including close to 600 in Maine, 46 of whom are active donors. Each donor commits to donating at least 150 ounces of milk, but the average donor gives closer to 500 ounces, Lindquist said.

Each ounce of breast milk, Lindquist said, can provide up to three meals for premature babies.

The milk local mothers donate and drop off at the Personalized Pediatrics depot will be sent to the milk bank in Newton, Massachusetts, to be processed and then could be sent anywhere in Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast service area. But local dispensaries and depots like Personalized Pediatrics’ create a sense of neighbor helping neighbor, Lindquist said.

Piller, whose baby received donor milk in the NICU at Maine Medical Center, began donating in late March.

“It was a really incredible gift we were given, so I knew if I was able to produce excess I wanted to give it back,” she said.

She estimates she has donated seven gallons so far and intends to continue donating for as long as she can.

Gorham donor Jennifer Michaud said donating her excess milk to Mother’s Milk Bank Northeast was “a positive, wonderful and meaningful experience for myself and family.”

“I was very excited to learn that other families near me will have this new option to donate and receive milk through this wonderful and dedicated group of people,” Michaud said.

Most insurance companies do not cover the cost of donor breast milk and financial aid is limited. A bill before Legislature, LD 85 sponsored by Rep. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, would require MaineCare to cover the cost of donor milk if the newborn medically needs it or if the mother cannot produce enough for her baby. The bill has been supported at the Senate and House of Representatives level and has been forward to the special appropriations table for passage.

For more information about Personalized Pediatrics of Maine’s donor breast milk program or to donate or request breast milk, contact Kopelman at [email protected]

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