CROWN POINT | Inside a deep freezer in a Crown Point medical office is a shelf loaded with bags of breast milk.
The 100 ounces, donated by 27-year-old DeMotte resident Jessica Plant, is the start of what breastfeeding advocates hope will become a widespread effort.
They gathered for a small ceremony Friday at Crown Point Obstetrics and Gynecology, 800 W. Burrell Drive, to mark the grand opening of the office as a drop-off site for mothers' milk, which will be shipped to the Indiana Mothers' Milk Bank in Indianapolis for safety testing and processing.
The donated nutrient-rich milk is most commonly used in neonatal intensive care units, or NICUs.
"It's liquid gold for these premature babies and sick infants in the NICU," said Kelley Thompson, neonatal nurse practitioner in the NICU at Franciscan St. Anthony Health hospital in Crown Point.
Lactation consultant Lavawn Souther works at Crown Point Obstetrics and Gynecology and came up with the idea of having the office serve as a drop-off site for pre-screened women. The office owners, who are physicians, were on board, she said.
The benefits of breast milk far outweigh formula, said Diane Gora, founder of the Northwest Indiana Breastfeeding Coalition.
Breast milk contains antibodies that help protect babies from germs, illness and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Babies who consume breast milk – whether from their mother or another woman – have lower risks of health problems, including ear infections, stomach viruses, asthma, obesity, childhood leukemia and necrotizing enterocolitis, which is a gastrointestinal disease in preterm infants, according to the HHS.
"Breast milk is like donating blood; it is a life source for babies," said Gora, a registered nurse and a lactation consultant at St. Mary Medical Center in Hobart.
Gora wants to see a milk depot open in Porter County next.
Plant, cradling her 7 1/2-week-old daughter Olivia Plant, said she was over-producing milk at night.
She talked with Souther, who suggested she pump the excess and donate it to the new milk depot site.
In 10 days, Plant produced 100 ounces – there are 128 ounces in a gallon – to donate, while still feeding Olivia and storing another 300 ounces at home in case she stops producing and the baby needs it.
"As long as I keep producing for her, I do plan on donating more," she said. "It's the first I've heard of anything like this."
Lauren Duncan, donor mother coordinator for the Indiana Mothers' Milk Bank, said four other local women are going through the donor screening process right now, a number expected to grow as word spreads.
For more information about becoming a breast milk donor, visit www.immb.org.