Vt.’s donor milk center to expand services

Published: Mar. 17, 2022 at 8:45 AM EDT|Updated: Mar. 17, 2022 at 10:18 AM EDT
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ESSEX JUNCTION, Vt. (WCAX) - In January 2020, Vermont’s only donor milk center opened right before the world shut down. Since then, dozens and dozens of families have fed their babies with donor milk and there are plans to expand services.

A refrigerator stocked with milk in what’s called “The Milk Cave” sits tucked inside the Vermont Donor Milk Center.

It gives mothers like Shaina Kehoe the breastmilk needed to feed not one, but two babies.

“I did everything I could, but you know, we definitely need to supplement,” said Kehoe, who has twin baby girls.

Kehoe says she started breastfeeding right away, but couldn’t keep up with the girls’ hungry appetites.

With a doctor’s note, families can pick up milk from the center, located on Lincoln St., in Essex Junction.

“Between our lactation consultant and the Donor Milk Center and family and friends, it’s a very supportive community to help me continue the journey of breastfeeding,” said Kehoe. “You know, if I didn’t have access to that in the beginning, I may not have... it may have just been too much.”

The center opened in 2020 right before the world shut down, but center director Amy Wenger kept on going.

“A lot of these services had to stop moving, and we, being our own entity, were able to make the choice to stay open, and that’s a big source of pride for us,” said Wenger.

The center reports these statistics from the last two years:

  1. While the milk comes pasteurized from Mother’s Milk Bank Northeast, Vermont moms have donated more than 55,000 ounces of their own milk.
  2. 20,000 4-ounce bottles were given to feed babies.
  3. Nearly 100 families were given financial aid, which totals more than $60,000.

Breastmilk is more expensive than formula and Wenger says the goal is for milk to be an option for everyone despite finances.

They are trying to get Medicaid coverage for donor milk. In the meantime, she says COVID relief money and money in the fiscal budget help them offer financial assistance.

If safety is a concern, Wenger says there is a strict process to make milk safe for babies. This comes at a time when a recall has pulled certain powdered formula mixes from the shelf.

“I think it’s been 25 years of human milk banking in this country,” said Wenger. “There’s never once been a recall and so I think that’s pretty significant.”

But the goal of the center isn’t just to be a place to drop off or pick up milk. They plan to be a hub for lactation and support. Much of that plan was put on hold because of the pandemic.

“We would like to start having in-person lactation services, kind of in here in our space and then see how that branches out and really be able to connect to different pediatricians’ offices, and be able to connect to - be able to educate everybody in our community about safe ways to, you know, receive services,” said Wenger.

Wenger says now it’s the time to get the word out.

“We don’t want this to be the biggest secret,” said Wenger. “We want everybody to say, ‘Hey, I need this,’ even short term.”

Giving grateful families a place to go for milk, baby help and community.

“It’s amazing,” said Kehoe.

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Donor breast milk center set to open in Essex Junction Monday

Center for donor breast milk to open in Essex Junction

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