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CROWN POINT | A Northwest Indiana OB/GYN office collected about 375 pounds of breast milk in its first year as a donation site. Then Megan Cardwell, a mom from Crown Point, showed up.

Her nearly 1,400-ounce donation brought the total the site has collected to roughly 10,000 ounces in less than a year and a half.

"Let me know when you're going to ship — I'll bring you more," Cardwell told lactation consultant Lavawn Souther, her 7-month-old daughter strapped to her chest.

About 20 mothers have given to the drop-off site at Crown Point OB/GYN, the only of its kind in Lake or Porter counties, since it began collecting for The Milk Bank in March. Souther brought the moms together this week to thank them for their contributions with cake and cookies.

"The milk they donate goes to critically ill, fragile babies who it can truly mean life or death for," she said, as kids ran around the room with frosting on their faces. "Some of those babies can't have anything but breast milk."

Souther freezes the milk and, once she has a large enough amount, ships it to The Milk Bank. The Indianapolis nonprofit pasteurizes it and distributes it to hospitals and by prescription to feed to premature and sick babies across the Midwest; some is also used for research. Breast milk is known to be high in nutrients and anti-bacterial agents.

"It's really babies' first vaccine," said Sheryl Bane, a LaPorte doula and breastfeeding educator.

Breanne Mitsef, of Schererville, started donating to the milk bank after her son, Micah, who's now 20 months, spent time in a neonatal intensive-care unit.

"Once I was home and was able to nurse him as much as I wanted, I wanted to help moms who had to deal with the things I had to in the NICU," said Mitsef, who is currently giving her extra breast milk to a friend who is having trouble producing.

She said she had to fight to nurse her son at the NICU. Many hospitals give premature and ill babies formula.

"There's so much on the Internet about mothers selling their milk to make money," said Diane Gora, a lactation consultant at Franciscan St. Anthony Health-Crown Point. "It's great to see these these moms are donating it."

Jessica Plant, of DeMotte, was overproducing breast milk after giving birth to her daughter, Olivia, last January. So she went to see Souther, who reassured her that she was fine and encouraged her to donate the extra milk. Plant was the first donor to the Crown Point drop-off site.

"It made me feel really empowered to do something special for other people," said Plant, whose daughter is now 18 months old.

For more information on donating to the local depot, call Crown Point OB/GYN at (219) 663-9913.

"I just want to keep spreading the word that women should donate," Souther said. "It's a huge help to many, many babies."

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Health reporter

Giles is the health reporter for The Times, covering the business of health care as well as consumer and public health. He previously wrote about health for the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World. He is a graduate of Northern Illinois University.