Penobscot Bay Medical Center opened a Mothers’ Milk Depot Tuesday, May 28, in association with Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast. The depot will allow nursing mothers with extra milk to donate it to the bank, where it will be distributed throughout the region to supply mothers who are unable to breastfeed, usually as a result of having premature or sick babies.

The first donation, of 250 ounces, was given by Jill Baer of Gardiner at a lunchtime ceremony at the hospital.

Dr. Jennifer McKenna, an obstetrician/gynecologist and director of women’s health at Pen Bay and Waldo County General Hospital, where another depot will be opened Wednesday May 29, said she was very proud of the work put in by the nursing staff to get the depot running and hoped that eventually Pen Bay would be able to provide access to milk along with the collection services.

She stressed the importance from a medical standpoint of providing babies with human milk, as opposed to formula, an idea that was echoed by the hospital staff, mothers and milk bank representatives in attendance.

Cynthia Cohen, director of client relations for MMBNE, said the role of depots is to collect, store and ship milk to the central bank in Massachusetts and to work on education and outreach in the community.

She said much of the outreach is focused on letting mothers know that there is a system in place where their extra milk that may be going to waste can be used to help babies in need.

“The presence of a milk depot signifies a deep commitment to the health and well-being of the most vulnerable members of the community,” said Ann Marie Lindquist, director of community relations for MMBNE, in a Pen Bay press release.

By the end of May there will be six depots in Maine, up from two at the beginning of the year, an increase that Cohen attributed partly to outreach by the bank, but largely to efforts by hospital staff and the Maine State Breastfeeding Coalition.

At Pen Bay, much of that work was done by the nine lactation consultants at the hospital, and Regional Nurse Director Kathleen Hastings.

Angie Laliberte, one of the lactation consultants who was instrumental in the process of establishing the depot, said she was motivated by the potential to give mothers a chance to decrease formula usage and to give them a choice. She and fellow lactation consultant Cecily Havener said the process included coordinating meetings with MMBNE, ensuring the hospital had all the necessary materials, buying a freezer, bringing the proposal before a number of hospital committees and receiving training on how to package and ship the donated milk.

Cohen said the screening process for mothers is similar to screening for blood donation and is entirely paid for by the milk bank. Mothers can visit to see whether they are likely to qualify before calling 617-527-6263, ext. 3, to complete a 10-minute phone screening. Prospective donors must then complete a free blood test, and if approved, are ready to donate.

Laliberte said that after approval the donation process is as simple as calling a lactation consultant to arrange a pickup. The hospital then ships the donation to the milk bank, where it is tested and pasteurized.

According to materials provided by the milk bank, there are now 26 depots in the Northeast, including 12 in Maine and New Hampshire. The nearest location for receiving milk is Maine Medical Center, although Cohen said arrangements can be made for milk to be sent to homes.

She added that growing up, her mother and many people her age were discouraged from breastfeeding and it has been nice to see the growing support for human milk for human babies.