UConn First Hospital in State to Host Milk Depot for Newborns

Lactation consultant Marisa Merlo helps maternity patient Bekkilyn Toone breastfeed her newborn son in UConn Health's labor and delivery unit. (Kristin Wallace/UConn Health Photo)
Lactation consultant Marisa Merlo helps maternity patient Bekkilyn Toone breastfeed her newborn son in UConn Health's labor and delivery unit. A new milk depot at UConn John Dempsey Hospital will distribute donated, pasteurized human milk to babies in fragile health, to boost their chances of survival and healthy development. (Kristin Wallace/UConn Health Photo)

UConn John Dempsey Hospital will be the first hospital in Connecticut, and only location in the Greater Hartford Area, to serve as a milk depot for breast milk donations for newborns in need.

“Our new milk depot at UConn John Dempsey Hospital is going to benefit our tiniest patients in NICUs across Connecticut and the Northeast, including our very own, the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) here at UConn Health,” says Marisa Merlo, lactation consultant for UConn Health’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

UConn Health’s milk depot will be only the fifth in Connecticut to join Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast, a nonprofit community milk bank accredited by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, which distributes donated, pasteurized human milk to babies in fragile health throughout the Northeast.

Women interested in donating their breast milk can directly contact Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast to apply for eligibility and screening. Once women become eligible to donate, their breast milk donations will be accepted by Merlo at UConn Health and safeguarded at its new Milk Depot Room’s freezer. Merlo and her staff will safely ship the frozen milk to Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast for pasteurization processing and distribution to their network of NICUs.

Not all mothers of newborns can produce milk or a sufficient milk supply. Mothers with premature newborns can especially experience difficulty producing or pumping enough breast milk while their baby is in the NICU. Donor milk is a more beneficial substitute for fragile newborns than formula.

Breast milk has “endless benefits,” according to Merlo, and research shows it is the best source of nutrition for all babies, but especially those born prematurely. Breast milk can benefit a baby’s overall survival, healthy growth and development, and immunity. The CDC, WHO, and American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines all recommend that babies be breastfed or receive breast milk for the first six months of their life if possible. For women, breastfeeding for six months is also one of the top 10 cancer prevention recommendations by the American Institute for Cancer Research.

“This new milk depot at UConn Health will make it more accessible, easier, and stress-free for women to donate their breast milk to help other women and their babies,” says Natalee Martin, associate director of development for UConn Health. She chose to donate her breast milk for three months after her daughter turned one, to help boost the health of NICU babies.

“I know just how critically important donated breast milk is,” says Martin, who used to work for the March of Dimes. “The fact that the donated milk is staying in the Northeast and Connecticut to help other moms is amazing.”

The new milk depot at UConn Health was founded and made possible with initial generous donations by Merlo, Martin, obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Christopher Morosky, and Carrie Ferrindino, nurse manager of Maternal Child Health, for the purchase of a milk freezer.

“The Milk Depot at UConn John Dempsey Hospital is a wonderful opportunity to provide to our community,” says Ferrindino. “Our goal at UConn Health is to do everything in our power to promote and support healthy moms and healthy babies.”

To donate breast milk apply online or call 617-527-6263 ext. 3 or email donate@milkbankne.org.

The week of Aug. 1-7 is World Breastfeeding Week, in recognition of the importance of breastfeeding across the world.