Milk depot makes donating more convenient

Last year, a record level of 3,119,353 ounces of human milk was dispensed from HMBANA milk banks. While this is a wonderful achievement, it is estimated that if all NICUs in the United States provided human milk for babies weighing less than 1500 grams at birth, we would require over three times that amount, about 10 million ounces to supplement all low birth weight babies.

Columbia St. Mary's Mother Baby nurses and lactation professionals pose in front of the depot freezer
Columbia St. Mary’s Mother Baby nurses and lactation professionals pose in front of the depot freezer

Thanks to efforts like those of Columbia St. Mary’s Women’s Hospital in Milwaukee, Wis. though, human milk is becoming a reality for more and more babies. Columbia St. Mary’s recently opened the first Mother’s Milk Depot in Milwaukee County, made possible by a grant from the Mother’s Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes (MMBWGL). There are currently ten MMBWGL depots in Wis.

“We are so excited and proud,” Jenni Strait, a nurse and lactation consultant at Columbia St. Mary’s says. Columbia St. Mary’s and community members celebrated the opening of the milk depot with a ribbon cutting and screening of the documentary Donor Milk back in May.

A milk depot is more or less a “pit stop” where mothers can drop off their milk before it gets shipped to a milk bank for pasteurization and distribution. Milk depots make the formal donating process more convenient.

Mothers who are interested in donating milk are required to set up a consultation where their blood is screened for communicable diseases and medications that might be dangerous to infants. The screening takes about two weeks and the cost is covered by the depot.

Mothers have the option to share milk informally without adhering to a screening process, but there are risks involved.

Because of the screening and treatment involved, donor milk banking is considered formal milk sharing. Exceptionally vulnerable babies benefit from formal milk sharing because mothers of hospitalized babies are at greatest risk for low milk supply, Strait says.

“Breast milk is literally life-saving to babies in the NICU,” she continues. “Research has proven that breast milk helps avoid life threatening complications for these babies.”

Babies who receive human milk benefit from faster lung and brain development and have lower incidences of contracting necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a life-threatening intestinal infection. For babies who have undergone multiple surgeries, breast milk is often the only food they can tolerate.

“Breast milk is important to all babies, but ounce per ounce it has the greatest impact on this population,” Strait says.

Since its opening, about 19 gallons of human milk have been donated to Columbia St. Mary’s.

The first mother to donate to Columbia St. Mary's milk depot presents a portion of her donation at the ribbon cutting
The first mother to donate to Columbia St. Mary’s milk depot presents a portion of her donation at the ribbon cutting

“We have been surprised at how excited moms are to donate their milk,” Strait says. “These moms put a lot of time and effort into pumping their milk.  Moms have expressed that being able to donate their milk is such a relief because they thought their milk would go to waste.”

To be fulfilling such a great need, Strait says the process to establish a depot was quite simple.

“The grant that we received from the MMBWGL was integral to opening our milk depot,” she explains. “Having funding for the freezer made it very simple for [hospital] management to approve our plan and for us to move forward.”

Housing the freezer in the mother baby unit allows hospital staff to conveniently check freezer temperature.

“We then created a hospital policy detailing how the milk would be handled and how the freezer would be monitored,” Strait continues.  “Our infection control department and risk management department both had to agree to our policy.”

To others looking to establish milk depots, Strait says, “Just go for it!”

“The milk bank was very supportive and the contract we signed with them guided our hospital policy,” she explains.

Strait encourages mothers who are interested in donating to contact a milk bank.

“Mothers donate for many different reasons,” she says.  “We appreciate it all!”

For more information about donor milk, visit:

For more information about the MMBWGL, visit:

For more information about Columbia St. Mary’s milk depot, visit: or call Lactation Services at (414) 291-1440.

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