LIVINGSTON— Aiming to ease the process for mothers interested in donating and receiving breast milk, and perhaps reduce the number of moms relying on an unregulated market, Saint Barnabas Medical Center is now home to a human milk depot.

With this month's grand opening of the depot, the first in New Jersey connected to Mothers' Milk Bank Northeast, mothers who are nursing and producing more milk than they need can drop off the "liquid gold" at the hospital, which will then send it off to be pasteurized, tested and bottled for moms lacking an adequate supply or unable to nurse.

For years, Saint Barnabas has been providing banked breast milk to babies in the neonatal intensive care unit. With the expansion of their program, the hospital is now providing banked milk for babies in all of the facility's nurseries. A bridge supply is also offered to mothers who leave the hospital and are awaiting a milk bank delivery at home.

"It's excellent to have milk to offer to the full-term babies, but for preemies it's actually life-saving," said Kimberly Rosales, clinical director of the hospital's Family Centered Care.

One in nine babies in the U.S. is born premature, according to the Human Milk Banking Association of North America. Feeding human milk to a preemie is said to reduce the newborn's risk of contracting common illnesses by 75%.

"It may take several days for a new mother to produce enough milk to meet the baby's needs," said Timothy Yeh, chairman of the Department of Pediatrics. "The antibodies in breast milk help protect newborns, including full-term and premature babies, from infection and help the baby grow."

The majority of donor moms produce more milk than their baby needs or wants, but some mothers lost their baby at birth and honor their child by donating.

Before donations can be accepted by the hospital, a woman must go through a donor screening, which includes a blood test, physician approval and health history.

With the opening of the depot location, Mothers' Milk Bank Northeast now has 28 depots in nine states.

Rosales said another reason for the creation of the depot is a growing trend of "informal milk sharing."

"It's not necessarily always safe," she said. "There's no regulation on selling breast milk, you can go on Facebook and purchase it, so we wanted to have something in place as a safe alternative."

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.