SSM Health St. Mary’s Hospital-Janesville soon will become the first regulated spot in Rock County for residents to donate breast milk.

St. Mary’s will later this month become a depot for Mother’s Milk Bank of the Western Great Lakes, an Illinois-based organization that delivers breast milk to neonatal intensive care units and to homes for children who do not have access to breast milk.

The hospital will be solely a drop-off location. Those looking to receive breast milk can contact the organization and have it delivered to their homes, said Nicole Robbins, education and outreach specialist for Mother’s Milk.

Staff will log donations in the freezer and monitor freezer temperature daily, said Kari Enke, director of the hospital’s family birth suites.

Staff at St. Mary’s wanted to offer the service because the hospital does not have a neonatal intensive care unit. This gives them an opportunity to give back to babies in need and offer a service to the community, Enke said.

Those who donate breast milk have to first be registered with Mother’s Milk. The organization asks the donor to complete a survey about lifestyle choices; talks to the donor’s obstetrician and donor’s baby’s pediatrician; and tests the donor’s blood. The process takes two to three weeks, Robbins said.

All donated milk gets pasteurized and checked for bacteria, Robbins said.

The organization makes sure all the milk is safe and healthy for babies, making it safer than getting milk from peers, Robbins said.

Facebook has groups dedicated to milk donation. Finding milk on social media can be unsafe because some people do not properly store milk, use equipment that is not clean or make lifestyle choices—such as drug and alcohol use—that could taint the milk, Robbins said.

Families seek out breast milk for a number of reasons, most commonly because the mother is struggling to or is unable to produce her own milk, Robbins said. Some babies are intolerant to formula, especially babies in intensive care.

Women typically donate milk because they have pumped more than they need, Robbins said.

When infants die, families have breast milk left over. Mother’s Milk gives the families support through its bereavement program, Robbins said.

The Janesville breast milk depot will fill a gap for breast milk donation in southern Wisconsin. The nearest depots now are in Madison and Rockford, Illinois, Robbins said.

An earlier version of this story gave the date and time for a kick-off party for the event. The hospital has decided to change the date and time. The program will not be operating until that time.