LIVINGSTON, NJ – The first milk bank in New Jersey has officially opened at Saint Barnabas Medical Center (SBMC) in Livingston, which held a grand opening ceremony for the new Human Milk Depot and Well Baby Donor Milk Program last week. 

The project was completed in partnership with Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast, which has 27 bank members and distributed nearly 6.5 million ounces of human milk in the United States and Canada last year. Stephen P. Zieniewicz, president and chief executive officer of SBMC, stated that the hospital has been providing breast milk to mothers for years and that the partnership is a momentous occasion.

Mothers who are producing more milk than they need are now able to donate milk so that other babies can reap the health benefits. Mothers who have lost their babies to miscarriage have also been known to donate milk in honor of their child.

Sign Up for West Orange Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

“All babies benefit from human milk with rare exception, but for medically fragile or premature infants, breast milk is even more critical,” said Dr. Kamtorn Vangvanichyakorn, director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at SBMC. “In times when a mother is unable to provide enough of her own milk, the next best option is pasteurized banked donor breast milk.

“At SBMC, we have been providing banked breast milk for our NICU babies for many years. We are celebrating the expansion of this program to provide banked breast milk for babies in all of our nurseries when a mother is unable to breastfeed or requires supplementation. In addition, we will open our depot for authorized mothers to donate their milk.”

SBMC and other hospitals provide banked breast milk to babies in the NICU to help premature babies, who can benefit greatly from human breast milk, to gain weight and to achieve optimal health.

The Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast has strict standards to ensure that all milk is pure. All donors are interviewed about their health, submit to a blood test and obtain a note from their physician. The milk is then tested and pasteurized to make sure it’s 100-percent healthy for the vulnerable babies who need it.

According to Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast, an infant has never been harmed by donor milk in more than 40 years of modern milk banking.

Dr. Timothy S. Yeh, chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at SBMC, told those at last week’s grand opening that he was very pleased with the partnership between SBMC and Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast.

“The milk is invaluable,” he said. “It may take several days for a new mother to produce enough milk to meet the baby’s needs. The antibodies in breast milk help protect newborns, including full-term and premature babies, from infection and help the baby grow.”

According to the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, one-in-nine babies in the United States is born prematurely. Vanganichyakorn reported that premature babies are “at risk for illnesses, including necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), which causes serious lifelong health complications or death." She also noted that human breast milk reduces the risk of illnesses and NEC by 75 percent.

Three mothers who received banked milk for their premature babies attended the ribbon cutting to share their stories.

Laura Lomonte, who brought her 7-year-old twins, Nick and Will, told the audience that she already had three children before her twins were born. She explained that she wanted to nurse them; but when her twins were born at two pounds and one pound, 10 ounces, Lomonte’s body shut down.

“I tried to pump the milk, but I couldn’t,” said Lomonte, who added that she was “incredibly thankful” to SBMC for helping her to feed her new babies.

Rajitha Madala, who gave birth 26 weeks into her pregnancy, said her son, Arjun, was born at only one pound and three ounces while her own blood pressure was extremely high. She used the milk donated from SBMC for a week until she was able to feed him herself.

The third mother, Renegilde Romero, was SBMC’s first-ever milk donor. Romero explained that she had a great deal of trouble getting pregnant—as she had gestational diabetes, low progesterone and a tumor in her placenta—and wasn’t sure if her baby, Gino, would live.

Gino spent four days in the NICU with a fever and oxygen issues, according to Romero, who also expressed gratitude for the banked milk that helped her son live. Once Gino began eating solid food, Romero was able to pump and store enough milk to donate during the grand opening so that she could help another mother in need.

“My pregnancy was challenging, and I empathize with other mothers having difficulties with their babies,” she said. “I am very grateful and so happy to donate milk and give back.”

During the grand opening, Kim Rosales, clinical director of Family Centered Care, acknowledged lactation consultants Suzanne O’Neill and Sarah Rieber, who conceived the idea of joining the milk bank.

The American Academy of Pediatrics’ latest recommendation is to nurse exclusively for the first six months of a baby’s life. Dr. Vanganichyakorn mentioned that breastfeeding is good for mothers’ health as well, as it lowers their risk of Leukemia and Lymphoma.

With the opening of this location, Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast will now have 28 depots in nine states throughout the Northeast. Newborns in the Family Centered Care Unit and NICU at SBMC will benefit from the donated milk. A bridge supply will be available for mothers who are awaiting their milk bank delivery at home.

Mothers who wish to donate milk can review guidelines on the milk bank website, milkbankne.org/donate, then contact a Donor Intake Coordinator for screening at 617-527-6263 x3 or donate@milkbankne.org to get started.