Donated breast milk at the new milk dispensary at Pediatric Associates of Lewiston. Credit: Courtesy of Mothers' Milk Bank N

Mothers unable to feed newborns with their own breast milk have a new option to get nutritious donated milk at a dispensary that opened Thursday in Lewiston.

Mothers with premature babies and those who do not have enough milk or are unable to nurse, even during the first few days after giving birth, are among those who use donated milk. To date, that donated breast milk has been available from hospitals to babies who are patients, from individuals who sell it directly to mothers or via the internet.

“We want to help babies in Maine have access to donor milk,” said Cynthia Cohen, director of client relations at Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast in Newton Upper Falls, Massachusetts. “We provide safe, pasteurized donor milk.”

The milk dispensary, located at Pediatric Associates of Lewiston, will make milk available to anyone who needs it, not just those whose baby is born in a hospital offering the milk, Cohen said.

Mothers can get up to 40 ounces, which would feed an average baby for about a day, but they need a doctor’s prescription for more than that amount.

Mothers’ Milk is supplying the breast milk to Pediatric Associates to dispense to needy patients. The dispensary is one of two it has. The other is at Caring for Kids in Belmont, New Hampshire.

“We are the first outpatient dispensary in Maine,” said Jenny Desmarais, the lactation counselor at Pediatric Associates. “The milk can help bridge the gap in the few days from when the baby is delivered until the mother is able to produce milk.”

Desmarais said the milk is not a long-term solution for mothers who want to feed their babies breast milk, because it is too expensive to use long term.

Credit: Courtesy of Mothers' Milk Bank Northeast

While the milk is free, there is a $13.50 processing fee for 3.4 ounces of milk, enough to feed an average baby for a couple feedings, Desmarais said. But a baby needs eight to 10 feedings a day. Insurers typically do not pick up the tab, nor does Medicaid in Maine, she said.

Mothers’ Milk has 28 depots in the Northeast where mothers with extra breast milk can donate. Six of the depots are in Maine at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, LincolnHealth Miles campus in Damariscotta, Maine Medical Center in Portland, Pen Bay Medical Center in Rockport, Metta Yoga Studio in Biddeford and Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast.

“We plan to have more depots and more hospitals in the next few months,” Cohen said.

The donated milk is sent to Mothers’ Milk in Massachusetts, where it is tested, pasteurized and distributed to people, including at the dispensaries.

Cohen said the milk gets a thorough screening, including interviews with the donors, blood testing and testing of the milk. The tests are done at a third-party lab.

Mothers’ Milk received 596,154 ounces of raw milk donations in 2018 and processed and dispensed 339,081 ounces. Cohen said the numbers are significantly higher so far this year.

She said the cost for testing and screening is high. The blood test alone is $200 per sample, and the nonprofit pays about $2,000 a month for electricity to keep freezers running to store the milk.

Milk safety is important, especially for newborns still building up their immune system. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said the benefits of breastfeeding are well established, but it cautions mothers not to buy milk directly from individuals or via the internet. It recommends mothers consult with a doctor because the nutritional needs of each baby depend on factors including age and health.