A milk depot — where breast-feeding moms can drop off excess breast milk to be shipped to a milk bank that distributes it to babies in need — is set to open on Long Island on Feb. 23. It’s the first milk depot in Nassau and Suffolk counties, says Dr. Lauren Macaluso, a pediatrician with Allied Physicians Group in New Hyde Park.
The nonprofit depot will be located at Macaluso’s medical office. Women who want to donate breast milk will first go through a screening procedure that includes being tested for HIV and other infectious diseases and making sure that they don’t smoke or use illegal drugs. Women collect their milk at home. “When they bring it to me, it’s already pumped,” Macaluso said.
The milk initially will be sent to the Mothers’ Milk Bank of Ohio to be distributed, for instance, to premature babies whose mothers can’t produce enough milk on their own, says Macaluso, who also is a certified lactation consultant and who specializes in breast-feeding issues in her practice.
“What we are trying to do by creating milk depots is get more mothers into the system,” Macaluso says. “Human milk is the norm for human feeding. The thought is the more access points for women to drop milk off, the more milk we can get to infants who need it.”
Once a milk bank opens in New York State, the ultimate goal is “to have New York milk for New York babies,” Macaluso says. A milk bank is in the process of being established in Hastings-on-Hudson in Westchester County and should open by May, says Julie Bouchet-Horwitz, executive director of The New York Milk Bank.
Milk banks pasteurize milk once they receive it; a prescription is required to receive donor milk, Bouchet-Horwitz says. Milk banks sell the breast milk to hospitals or directly to women who need it to cover the costs of the process, she says. Hospitals often absorb the cost for babies while they are hospitalized; insurance companies don’t routinely reimburse for breast milk in New York, so if a baby still needs breast milk after being discharged from the hospital the parents have to pay for it themselves, she says. The New York Milk Bank will charge $4.50 per ounce plus shipping, Bouchet-Horwitz says, adding that premature babies drink far fewer ounces per day than a full-term newborn.
Christina Mouroulis, 37, of Williston Park, is in the process of applying to donate milk and is thrilled a depot will open “a hop and a skip away.” Mouroulis, mom of James, 3, and Lucas, 6 months, says she produces more than enough milk to feed Lucas. “I would never throw away milk,” she says. “The fact that I can help whichever baby needs it just feels great. The benefits of breast feeding are amazing.”
The milk depot essentially entails a freezer located at Macaluso’s office and staff certified to handle and ship the milk product, Macaluso says. Macaluso’s nonprofit milk depot is licensed by the New York State Department of Health and is officially part of The New York Milk Bank, which in turn is affiliated with The Human Milk Banking Association of North America. Eight milk depots, including Long Island, have opened in New York State since 2015, with another two scheduled to open in the near future, Bouchet-Horwitz says. “We want one in every county,” Bouchet-Horwitz says.