MIAMI – Florida's first breast milk collection center opened in Miami on Tuesday.
Tiny toddlers teetering on unsteady legs and their moms attended the ribbon cutting ceremony at The Gathering Place, a pregnancy, childbirth, and parenting resource center located at 5810 Biscayne Boulevard in Miami's Morningside neighborhood.
Organizers showed off a freezer holding 500 ounces of breast milk provided by Ana Rodriguez, the first donor to the non-profit center.
"I produce more than my baby can consume," said Rodriguez. "This is milk that I've pumped, basically, at work. It's a lot of work pumping so it's good that it's going to a good cause."
She is the first donor of what is a first for Florida, a collection depot for breast milk which is then donated to babies in need.
According to Mirine Dye, a board-certified lactation consultant who works with The Gathering Place, some premature babies or little ones who are very sick at the time of birth are prescribed human milk by doctors. It is a medical necessity because the proteins in human milk are what she calls "species specific" and can help give those at risk little ones a healthy start.
Dye told Local 10 as it stands now; to get access to milk from human milk banks a doctor's prescription is required.
The milk collected at the maternity center located in Miami's Morningside neighborhood along Biscayne Blvd. and 58th Street is shipped to the Mothers' Milk Bank of North Texas where it is screened and pasteurized to ensure quality.
"They can drop it off here and when our freezer is full, we have volunteers who pack it up and ship it," said Michelle Fonte, the owner of The Gathering Place.
From there the non-profit delivers it to applicants who mainly consist of NICU's and hospitals.
Mother's Milk Bank of North Texas told Local 10's Christina Vazquez they have several so-called collection depots in Texas, Oklahoma, Nevada and now Miami.
They accept milk that has been pumped in the last 3-6 months, depending on how it was frozen. Once the freezer is full at The Gathering Place staff will put the milk in specialty boxes provided to it by Mother's Milk Bank of North Texas.
A spokeswoman at the Mother's Milk Bank of North Texas said pasteurization extends the shelf life from that point up to a year.
The Human Milk Banking Association of North America confirmed with Local 10's Christina Vazquez that The Gathering Place is Florida's first collection depot.
She said up until now Florida woman may have shipped their donated milk to a milk bank on an individual level but this is the first time a center has served as a drop-off point.
The Human Milk Banking Association of North America told Local 10 there are 11 human milk banks in America and two in Canada. One is in the works for Orlando, Florida but plans are still in development.
"All babies benefit from their own mother's milk but for some babies, it's a medical necessity to have human milk," said lactation consultant Mirine Dye.
The collection centers accept breast milk that has been pumped in the last three to six months.