When the freezer of Jessica Santangelo's refrigerator started to fill up with her expressed breast milk, she decided to buy a standalone freezer.
Then that freezer started to fill up.
Santangelo's 7-month-old daughter has started eating solid foods, so she doesn't drink as much milk as she once did.
"There was no way I was going to throw breast milk away," Santangelo said. "It's just way too precious."
In late October, Santangelo, of Richmond, decided to donate her milk to the Indiana Mothers' Milk Bank, which pasteurizes breast milk from screened donors and distributes it to hospitals for use with premature and sick babies.
"I'm fortunate to have a happy, healthy baby," Santangelo said. "If I can help another mom and another baby by giving them some of my milk, I'm more than happy to do so."
Santangelo has packed 482 ounces of breast milk in dry ice and shipped it to the Indiana Mothers' Milk Bank.
But come Thursday, it will become a lot easier for Santangelo and other local women to share their milk with other mothers and babies.
Mother Nurture, a Lexington baby boutique and breast-feeding resource center, is opening Milk Depot, a drop-off location for donated breast milk. The milk will be frozen and shipped to the Indiana bank for processing and distribution.
The store, 2891 Richmond Road, will hold a grand opening for the Milk Depot at 10 a.m. Thursday.
"We are constantly getting calls from moms who are interested in donating their milk," said Cerise Bouchard, owner of Mother Nurture.
Bouchard said women sometimes ask her about facilitating informal milk exchanges, but Bouchard said she's always a little uncomfortable with that, because "breast milk is a body fluid."
To donate to the Indiana Mothers' Milk Bank, women must have delivered their babies within the past 12 months and are required to undergo blood tests (paid for by the milk bank), and to provide complete medical and lifestyle histories.
The donated milk is tested for bacteria and nutrient levels; then it's pasteurized to kill any bacteria or viruses, according to the Indiana bank's Web site. After being pasteurized, the milk is tested for bacteria again before being shipped to recipients.
"I just feel a lot better" referring would-be donors to the milk bank, Bouchard said. "It's going to our sickest, most fragile babies."
Infants who receive the milk might have been delivered prematurely or might have any one of a number of conditions, such as failure to thrive, immunologic deficiencies or allergies.
The University of Kentucky Neonatal Intensive Care Unit buys milk from the Indiana bank for its tiniest babies when their mothers are unable to provide breast milk.
Sharon Wilham, a registered nurse and board-certified lactation consultant who works in the UK Neonatal ICU, said mother's milk helps "prime the gut to feed," protects babies against infections and can decrease the likelihood of the baby developing allergies and asthma.
"It's easy for the gut to digest. The babies grow better, and they tend to get discharged from the hospital sooner," Wilham said. "This is medicine for a baby. This is something that we can't replicate."
She said one to three babies — many weighing less than two pounds — are typically getting donor milk at UK at any time.
Wilham said the milk costs about $5 an ounce.
Just one teaspoon provides five feedings to the very tiniest babies, she said. By the time they are big enough to transition to formula, those babies might drink three to four teaspoons of donor milk every three hours.
Wilham said she is excited about the new donation center because the hospital already helps local mothers with extra milk to become donors.
A local drop-off center will "make it much easier for the mothers," she said.
Krista Citron of Lexington agreed.
Citron has donated nearly 300 ounces of milk to the Indiana bank during the past six months, and she has about 100 more ounces to donate when the drop-off opens at Mother Nurture on Thursday.
"It's nice to get some freezer space back," she said.
She said the Indiana Mothers' Milk Bank has made it as easy as possible to ship milk, but "with a baby in tow, it can take a lot longer than it should."
The milk bank ships the coolers and boxes to women for their donations, but the donors must get dry ice, pack up the milk and take it to the shipping center.
Citron and Santangelo said they're excited about the convenience of being able to drop off the milk at Mother Nurture and let it deal with the storage, packing and shipping.
"This is so much easier," Santangelo said.