Assemblywoman Kimberly Jean-Pierre, Dr. Jennifer Shaer, Dr. Lisa Visentin, Julie Bouchet-Horwitz and Congressman Lee Zeldin cut the ribbon at the new breast milk depot at Peconic Pediatrics in Riverhead. Photo: Katharine Schroeder

Suffolk County’s first breast milk collection site officially opened its doors at Peconic Pediatrics’ Riverhead office Tuesday afternoon with a ribbon cutting ceremony and a buffet of refreshments including cookies and, of course, milk.

The depot is one of 22 in New York State – only two are located on Long Island – for women who are approved donors and want to donate breast milk. The donations will then be shipped to Hastings-on-Hudson for pasteurization and distribution at the New York Milk Bank’s headquarters. The New York Milk Bank supplies breast milk to hospitals and to mothers incapable of producing their own milk.

New York Milk Bank’s founder and executive director Julie Bouchet-Horwitz spoke passionately about the need for breast milk, particularly for babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Units across the state.

Julie Bouchet-Horwitz, New York Milk Bank founder. Photo: Katharine Schroeder

One critical use for donor milk is in the treatment of necrotizing enterocolitis, a dangerous disease which most often affects premature infants and causes intestinal tissue to die. According to Bouchet-Horwitz, 100 infants a year in New York State die from it.

“But if a baby is given donor milk that rate drops significantly. One woman can provide milk for dozens of babies because these infants are so tiny. And it’s a very cost-effective solution; to feed a baby in the NICU for 10 weeks only costs $3,300. One case of necrotizing enterocolitis costs $350,000.”

The New York Milk Bank, located in Westchester, opened its doors in September and according to Bouchet-Horwitz, its success has far exceeded her expectations.

“We’ve collected four times more milk than we ever expected; tens of thousands of ounces of milk. Once we opened, the milk just started pouring into our facilities through our depots and through individuals who started shipping milk to us.”

Anyone can donate milk after passing a screening which includes blood tests and a doctor’s clearance. Most donations are made by working women who are pumping for their own children and have too much milk in their freezers. The minimum donation is 150 oz. but donations are often far more than that. Having depots in convenient locations is a tremendous help to the milk bank.

“Depots provide an invaluable service,” said Bouchet-Horwitz. “Not only do they collect milk, they raise awareness in the community of the importance of using donor milk. This creates a snowball effect. Raising awareness means more donors, more donors means more milk. More milk means more babies benefit and more premature infants survive.”

The ceremony was attended by Congressman Lee Zeldin, Supervisor Sean Walter, Babylon assemblywoman Kimberly Jean-Pierre, and Riverhead Town Council members James Wooten, Jodie Giglio and Timothy Hubbard, all of whom expressed their pride and excitement about the opening.

RiverheadLOCAL photos by Katharine Schroeder

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