MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Breastfeeding advocates have long touted the benefits of a mother’s milk. It provides antibodies that formula doesn’t and can even ward off illnesses down the road. But, producing or passing that milk onto a baby is not possible for all mothers. Now there’s a solution in Miami. It is Florida’s first nonprofit milk depot.

The facility, which had its official ribbon cutting Tuesday morning, is located at The Gathering Place, a pregnancy, childbirth and parenting resource center at 5810 Biscayne Boulevard in Miami.

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The milk depot is a place where prescreened and approved donor moms can drop off their donated breast milk instead of shipping it themselves.

A Miami mom who attends classes at The Gathering Place helped create the depot here in South Florida after encountering breast feeding problems.

“For many reasons I tried to breast feed, I really did but I couldn’t,” said Florencia Martinez.  For Martinez, feeding her son breast milk wasn’t just something she wanted to do, it was a necessity because her son couldn’t digest formula.

“I needed breast milk for him and it was even harder because had a milk protein allergy,” explained Martinez.

The Gathering Place in Miami is the first nonprofit milk bank in Florida.(Source: CBS4)

The Gathering Place in Miami is the first nonprofit milk bank in Florida.(Source: CBS4)

Martinez called a few of the nonprofit milk banks that are part of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America. The Mothers’ Milk Bank of North Texas, which provides donor human milk to hospitals in 10 states, was willing to open Florida’s first collection site at The Gathering Place.

“We are the first collection site in the state of Florida for a nonprofit milk collection organization,” said Michelle Fonte, Co-owner of The Gathering Place.

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The milk collected is screened, pasteurized, and used for babies who need it but aren’t able to receive it from their own mothers which is the ideal situation.

“Human milk used exclusively in the hospital, especially for fragile infants, drastically reduces long term problems such as cognition and brain function but also some of the short term problems that often kill our premature infants before they even get out of the hospital,” said board certified lactation consultant Marine Dye.

Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting symbolically opened the deep freezer unit which will store breast milk donations from women in South Florida.

The Mothers’ Milk Bank of North Texas fills prescriptions written by physicians for premature and medically fragile babies who need the life-giving and sustaining nutrition of donor human milk to thrive.

There are more than 35,000 babies born each year in Miami-Dade County, and although hospitals in the region prescribe donor human milk to NICU babies, a milk collection depot did not exist until now.

Martinez now serves as the volunteer milk depot coordinator, accepting donations from Miami donor moms such as Ana Rodriguez. With a goal to breastfeed her baby for at least one year, Rodriguez pumps her breast milk three times a day in her employer’s pump room.” She also pumps once at night. Emma is nearly a year old and Ana is very close to reaching her goal. With extra breast milk in her freezer, Rodriguez wanted to put it to good use. She already donated more than 1,200 ounces.

“It feels awesome. My baby was healthy and it’s so valuable to me that I can do that for them and I don’t have to throw it away, which I thought before is what I was going to have to do,” said Ana.

More than 85-percent of The Gathering Place moms breastfeed and more than 50 percent of those moms work outside the home and already pump their breast milk.

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Nonprofit milk banks ensure donor human milk is safe and available to the infants who need it most. The pasteurized breast milk dispensed is specifically processed to meet the specific needs of fragile and sick babies, serving babies with the greatest medical needs, regardless of family’s ability to pay.