the gathering place

Gathering Place is Florida’s first ‘milk depot’



The Gathering Place, 5810 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, 786-953-6417

Six months after first-time mom Florencia Martinez gave birth to her son Lucas, she started to “freak out.”

Her baby was vomiting, had diarrhea and was losing weight. She wasn’t producing enough breast milk to feed him, so she decided to supplement her own milk with formula. But Lucas could not digest it due to allergies.

“I didn’t know what to do,” says Martinez, 23, who lives in Cooper City. She began asking nursing friends if they could donate to feed Lucas, but she couldn’t find anyone whose milk fit his particular dietary needs.

That’s when she turned to the Mothers’ Milk Bank of North Texas, which collects donated milk from mothers who produce excess breast milk through pumping. The organization screens and pasteurizes the milk, which is then ice-packed and shipped overnight across the country. The milk bank fills prescriptions written by physicians for premature and medically fragile babies.

Martinez tapped into those donations to find milk without the proteins that were making Lucas ill. Today, Lucas is doing much better; he will celebrate his first birthday in March and has nearly tripled his weight since birth.

Bouyed by her experience, Martinez has worked with The Gathering Place at 5810 Biscayne Blvd. to establish a “milk depot” where South Florida mothers can donate their milk. Martinez, a volunteer who helps coordinate the donations, hopes the depot, which opened last week, will help alleviate the shortage of breast milk that she encountered.

Women can bring donations to the “depot,” a freezer where The Gathering Place is storing the milk, from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Florida does not have its own “milk bank,” so when the freezer is full, The Gathering Place sends donations to the bank in North Texas. Even before its official opening, the milk bank sent three shipments of about 1,300 ounces to Texas — enough to feed three to four babies on a short-term basis. The North Texas milk bank provides donor human milk to hospitals in 10 states.

The Gathering Place’s on-site lactation consultant, Mirine Dye, said collecting milk is becoming more important as more babies are born prematurely. These infants are especially vulnerable to respiratory and stomach infections that “can kill them in the first year of life” if they are not fed properly, she said.

When premature babies are fed breastmilk, they are able to be released from the hospital faster on average than babies who are fed infant formula, she said. While many recognize the benefits of breast feeding, Dye said, they don’t realize that premature babies usually can’t digest formula and can drink only breast milk.

Prior to The Gathering Place’s milk bank, breastfeeding mothers didn’t have a local place to donate their milk.

Ana Rodriguez, 30, began breastfeeding her daughter Emma when she was born almost a year ago. When Emma was about 4 months old and Rodriguez was ready to return to work, she began pumping and storing milk for her daughter. Soon, she filled her entire freezer, then moved on to fill her mother’s freezer.

Before she knew she could donate the milk, she sometimes just dumped it, which was “super painful” because it seemed like such a waste, she said. Her mother showed her an article about donating the milk and since then, she has helped fill The Gathering Place’s freezer.

“There’s a lot of Ana in North Texas,” other moms joked about her donations.

Martinez says she is “thankful” to all of the moms who came to The Gathering Place to share their breast-feeding experiences and donate their milk.

She noted that the milk bank probably wouldn’t have happened if it were not for difficulty in feeding her son.

“If I didn’t have all those issues,” she said, “(this depot) wouldn’t have happened.”

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