Catholic Charities in Norwich and New London wants your extra breast milk

Jamie McCann of Norwich holds her 1 year-old son, Hayes, and hands frozen milk to Anissa Mrowka, a pregnancy educator with Catholic Charities at the Norwich Catholic Charities office on October 12, 2017. The milk will be stored at minus 20 degrees Celcius in a new chest freezer, one of two that Catholic Charities of the Norwich Diocese opened Oct. 12, before it is donated for use by hospitals and families. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Jamie McCann of Norwich holds her 1 year-old son, Hayes, and hands frozen milk to Anissa Mrowka, a pregnancy educator with Catholic Charities at the Norwich Catholic Charities office on October 12, 2017. The milk will be stored at minus 20 degrees Celcius in a new chest freezer, one of two that Catholic Charities of the Norwich Diocese opened Oct. 12, before it is donated for use by hospitals and families. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

The local chapter of Catholic Charities is looking for donations from people who have more breast milk than they can use.

A grant distributed by the Thames Valley Council for Community Action has allowed the Norwich Diocese Catholic Charities branch to turn their offices in Norwich and New London into depots where donors can drop off bags of breast milk — unused because they're producing more than their infant can use, or because an infant died and their bodies are still making milk — for donation to the regional milk bank.

Mother's Milk Bank Northeast, accredited by a national nonprofit breast milk donation program, will distribute the milk to neonatal intensive care units in hospitals across the region and to people who request donations through the Mother's Milk Bank program.

The milk is given to premature infants as a supplement to their mothers' milk in neonatal intensive care units or nurseries, or used in cases that mothers can't breastfeed their children for medical reasons.

Human milk can help prevent premature infants from contracting diseases like necrotizing enterocolitis, which affects their intestines, if the infant's mother can't produce milk, said Ann Marie Lindquist, a spokeswoman for Mothers' Milk Bank Northeast.

Middlesex Hospital, Connecticut Children's Medical Center, St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center, Hospital of Central Connecticut, Manchester Memorial Hospital, Bridgeport Hospital and Yale New Haven Hospital all use donated milk from Mother's Milk Bank Northeast, according to a news release.

"It could be a lifesaver, theoretically, for a baby that's not getting what they need," said Anissa Mrowka, a pregnancy educator with the Diocese's branch of Catholic Charities.

The two freezers, which Mrowka will monitor, will be the only available drop-off points in the region for breast milk — the closest drop-off locations are in Guilford and Danbury.

People who are producing more milk than they need can register with Mothers' Milk Bank Northeast, which will conduct a blood test, health screening and get a doctor's approval before they register the person as a donor.

After they're registered, donors can make an appointment to drop off their donations, which must total at least 100 ounces of milk at a time, to the Catholic Charities offices adjacent to the St. Mary Star of the Sea church on Huntington Street in New London or its office at 331 Main Street in Norwich.

Mrowka will immediately ship the donations to Mothers' Milk Bank Northeast, which will have the milk pasteurized and tested by an independent lab before dispensing it to hospitals or families.

The two new drop-off locations will bring the number of Mothers' Milk Bank Northeast drop-off locations to 16.

Ann Marie Lindquist, a spokeswoman for Mothers' Milk Bank Northeast, said Thursday that the organization collects donations and distributes milk to infants in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York and Pennsylvania, in addition to Connecticut.

"We would like to make milk donation as well-known as blood donations," Lindquist said. The milk bank often hears from people who have thrown out freezer-fulls of unused milk because they didn't realize they could donate it, she said.

One woman from Norwich who had already registered with Mothers' Milk Bank Northeast brought a donation of more than 100 ounces of milk to a grand opening event at the Norwich Catholic Charities office Thursday, and Mrowka said others have expressed interest in the program since they began to publicize it.

m.shanahan@theday.com

Editor's Note: The temperature of the freezer was incorrect in a photo caption on an earlier version of this story. It will be kept at minus 20 degrees Celcius.

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