Chicago's first breast milk depot officially opens

CHICAGO (FOX 32 NEWS) - Chicago's first human milk depot opened Friday at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center.

Breast milk is an important nutritional supplement that is undeniable and this new milk depot will now make it very easy for moms to give milk and to get it.

One of the supporters is Barbara Melendi, who delivered a healthy baby girl a year ago. Just before she was about to go home, her little girl got very sick and was admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit for eight weeks. The baby was eventually sent home with a feeding tube as Melendi pumped and struggled to get her milk to come in.

"It made it really difficult to keep up my supply with the exhaustion," Melendi said. "I tried my best. As a dietitian, I knew how important it was to a child's development especially in the NICU."

She found comfort in knowing she had back up milk that had been donated by a screened and approved mom through the Mother's Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes. That group will now partner with Illinois Masonic's new Milk Depot, which will make it easier for mom's to donate in Chicago.

"Moms who have been approved as donors will have a place in the city to bring that frozen milk so that they don't have to ship it themselves or drive all the way out to the milk bank in Elk Grove to donate it," explained ICU nurse and lactation specialist Amber Barnes.

All of the milk will be tested, pasteurized, frozen and sent back to the hospital for babies in the NICU who aren't able to get enough milk from mom.

Moms still have a choice in whether to use it, but Melendi said for her it was easy.

"Having that safety net of knowing that if I didn't have the milk for her was so important to me and gave me some peace of mind through this otherwise very difficult time," she said.

Advocate Illinois Medical Center has been providing donor milk to babies since 2013. But after seeing the benefits, staff decided to begin accepting donations as a Milk Depot to allow more moms and babies to benefit from the program.