New depot for donated breast milk opens at Northampton Area Pediatrics



Last modified: Monday, October 21, 2013

NORTHAMPTON — When Lynne Feldman’s first child, Sam, was born in 2009, she wanted to breast-feed but had trouble starting, so she learned to pump milk for her baby.

“One of the results was I had excess milk,” said Feldman, 36, who lives in Petersham and has a full-time marketing job in Amherst. “I was thinking, what do I do with this?”

Feldman had heard about milk banks that collect, screen and pasteurize donated breast milk for infants whose mothers have trouble producing enough of their own. At the time, the closest available bank was in Texas, so she had to carefully pack her donated milk and send it off via Fedex.

On Friday, Feldman will become the first donor at a new milk depot housed at Northampton Area Pediatrics. A project of the Pioneer Valley Breastfeeding Coalition, the depot will collect breast milk pumped by donors for shipment to the Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast. The bank, which opened in 2011 in Newton Upper Falls near Boston, is now the only milk bank operating in the region. The next closest ones are in Ohio and North Carolina.

Depots, collection outlets that supply the banks, are also few and far between. The Northampton depot is the fourth in New England and the second in Massachusetts. The other Massachusetts depot is in Hanover.

Tanya Lieberman, a Northampton lactation consultant who led the local depot project, said breast milk collected by the bank is destined for hospitals to help sick and premature infants fight life-threatening infections they are at high risk of developing.

A refrigerator unit donated by Salemi Appliances in Springfield will help keep milk collected at the depot viable for transport to the bank in Newton Upper Falls.

“This is milk that is going to the most vulnerable babies of all, so it’s imperative that it’s safe,” said Lieberman, a mother of two who is also a former breast milk donor.

She emphasized that donated milk is used to supplement, not replace, a mother’s own milk. The milk bank also differs from informal mother-to-mother swaps in that it carefully screens potential donors to be sure they are in good health and then pasteurizes the milk for added safety.

Mothers who want to donate to the milk bank must first complete a telephone screening, an application and a blood test, according to the organization’s website, milkbankne.org. Moms who use illegal drugs, smoke or drink more than two alcoholic drinks per day are not eligible to donate milk.

Dr. Jonathan Schwab, who has been practicing at Northampton Area Pediatrics for more than two decades, said hosting a milk depot is part of his organization’s mission. “Breast milk is good for all babies, but this milk is being used for a particular group of really sick or small newborns,” he said. “Helping sick children is our job.”

Schwab said the practice was eager to support the depot after members of the breast-feeding coalition pitched the idea about a year ago. “It makes it easier for mothers to donate,” he said. “And it’s a way to direct the milk towards the babies most in need.”

Naomi Bar-Yam, executive director of Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast, said donated breast milk is becoming more widely used in hospital neonatal intensive care units in the region. Fifteen New England hospitals have made donor milk the standard of care for vulnerable pre-term infants, she said.

Baystate Children’s Hospital in Springfield was not on Bar-Yam’s list. Hospital director Molly Gray said Baystate promotes breast feeding and plans to have a donor milk program in place by early next year. Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton does not operate a neonatal intensive care unit.

Bar-Yam said donated milk can help reduce health care expenses, citing studies showing for every dollar spent on donor milk, an estimated $11 is saved on costs of treating sick babies.

The milk bank, which charges hospitals $4.50 per ounce of donated breast milk to cover the costs of screening and pasteurizing, has provided milk for about 130 infants since the start of the year, Bar-Yam said.

Feldman, who also has a 10-month-old, Elliott, said the milk bank’s screening procedures were not as time-consuming as the hassle she used to go through to ship donated milk to Texas before the Northampton depot was founded.

“I had to drive around and find a place with dry ice,” she said. “Applying to be a donor was the easy part.”

Feldman, who will be donating 150 ounces of breast milk on her first trip to the depot Friday, said helping other moms and babies is “a privilege.

“Not everybody gets a chance to do this,” she said. “It’s easy and it’s so rewarding.”

Mothers who want to donate milk can contact the milk bank at 617-527-6263 or donate@milkbankne.org. For information about the Northampton depot, call Lieberman at 238-1909, info@valleybreastfeeding.org.


 


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