What is a breast milk depot?

What is a breast milk depot?

What is a milk depot exactly? These depots allow moms who have been approved through a screening process the opportunity to drop off their breast milk to benefit at-risk babies who do not have access to their mother’s own milk.  

One Illinois hospital, Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin, in partnership with the Mothers Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes (MilkBankWGL), recently became the third Milk Depot in the state. 

Helping babies in need 
All breast milk donated to the MilkBankWGL is used to help very low birth weight babies in neonatal intensive care units, or NICUs, in Illinois and Wisconsin. In 2013, this facility collected more than 80,000 ounces of lifesaving breast milk. 

According to Dr. Rupal Upadhyay, chairman of the pediatric department at Sherman Hospital, breastfeeding offers numerous health benefits for babies, especially those who are at-risk.

“Breast milk may reduce a baby’s risk for type 1 and 2 diabetes, leukemia and sudden infant death syndrome,” Dr. Upadhyay says. “For at-risk babies, breast milk can significantly decrease mortality rates and lower the risk of ear, respiratory and gastrointestinal infections.” 

A positive breastfeeding culture
According to Jen Anderson, Director of the MilkBankWGL, hospitals, like Sherman, are chosen as a Milk Depot for many reasons, notably for their dedication to breastfeeding exclusivity. 

Currently, Sherman’s goal is to empower 65 percent of mothers to exclusively breastfeed with no formula supplementation. Sherman is the second Advocate hospital to become a Milk Depot in addition to Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge. 

“Advocate Sherman Hospital has a really positive breastfeeding culture that fits perfectly with our organization,” Anderson says. “Elgin is a fantastic location, as we currently don’t have any Milk Depots serving the northwestern suburbs. This new Milk Depot will highlight the importance of donor breast milk in very low birth weight babies and the importance of breastfeeding overall.” 

The donation process
In order to become a breast milk donor, moms must go through the MilkBankWGL’s pre-screening, which is similar to the process for donating blood. They also have a blood test where they are tested for several communicable diseases, including HIV, Hepatitis B and C and syphilis.

Once approved, moms are assigned a donor number and have the opportunity to drop off their breast milk to one of the Milk Depots. The first donation must be 100 ounces. Subsequent donations may be any amount; however, the MilkBankWGL recommends a minimum of 100 ounces over the course of being a donor.

“Not only do we collect milk from moms who have extra milk to give, but we also collect milk from moms who have lost their baby,” Anderson explains. “I recently had one mom who donated her breast milk after her baby was born stillborn. She wanted to make this her baby’s legacy. Bereaved mothers may donate any amount.” 

Once a breast milk donation is received, it is stored in a temperature-controlled and locked freezer. The breast milk will then be shipped on a monthly or bi-monthly basis to the MilkBankWGL to be pooled, pasteurized and tested. When the milk is proven safe, it is packaged on dry ice and shipped to local hospitals as needed to help at-risk babies.  

Eventually, Sherman’s long-term goal is to not only serve as a Milk Depot, but to also utilize donor breast milk from the MilkBankWGL to benefit the hospital’s own at-risk babies in the Special Care Nursery. Currently, Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago, Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital in Downers Grove, and Advocate Children’s Hospital (Park Ridge and Oak Lawn locations) utilize donor breast milk. 

For more information on donating to the Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes, please call 847-444-9256 or email info@milkbankwgl.org.

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One Comment

  1. What a fabulous thing!! I teared up when I read that even Mother’s who have lost their babies may donate. This would have been a very precious way for me to have honored my own little baby girl when she died while I was pregnant with her. No one told me I would have breast milk at 5 months of pregnancy and rather than cry that I had no baby to receive it, could have felt so good knowing it was being used to help another baby in honor of my own. BRAVO!!

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.