Neonatal Intensive Care

Got Breast Milk?

Lactation consultant Marisa Merlo helps maternity patient Bekkilyn Toone breastfeed her newborn son in UConn Health's labor and delivery unit.

Lactation consultant Marisa Merlo helps maternity patient breastfeed her newborn son in UConn Health’s labor and delivery unit.


UConn John Dempsey Hospital is the first hospital in Connecticut, and only location in the Greater Hartford area, to serve as a milk depot for breast milk donations for newborns in need.

“Our new milk depot is going to benefit our tiniest patients in Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs) across Connecticut and the Northeast, including our very own, the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center NICU here at UConn Health,” says Marisa Merlo, lactation consultant for UConn Health’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

UConn Health’s milk depot, which opened in August, is the fifth in Connecticut to join Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast. The nonprofit community milk bank, accredited by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, distributes donated, pasteurized human milk to babies in fragile health throughout the Northeast.

Women interested in donating their breast milk can contact Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast (milkbankne.org) directly to apply for eligibility and screening. Once women become eligible to donate, their breast milk donations are accepted by Merlo at UConn Health and safeguarded in the freezer of its new milk depot room. Merlo and her staff safely ship the frozen milk to Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast for pasteurization and distribution to their network of NICUs.

Not all mothers of newborns can produce a sufficient milk supply. Mothers with premature newborns especially can experience difficulty producing or pumping enough breast milk while their baby is in the NICU. Donor milk is a more beneficial substitute for fragile newborns than formula.

“This new milk depot at UConn Health will make it more accessible, easier, and stress-free for women to donate their breast milk to help other women and their babies,” says Natalee Martin, associate director of development for UConn Health. She chose to donate her breast milk for three months after her daughter turned one to help boost the health of NICU babies.

“I know just how critically important donated breast milk is,” says Martin, who used to work for the March of Dimes. “The fact that the donated milk is staying in the Northeast and Connecticut to help other moms is amazing.”

The new milk depot at UConn Health was founded and made possible with initial donations by Merlo, Martin, obstetrician/gynecologist Dr. Christopher Morosky, and Carrie Ferrindino, nurse manager of Maternal Child Health, for the purchase of a milk freezer.

“The milk depot at UConn John Dempsey Hospital is a wonderful opportunity to provide to our community,” says Ferrindino. “Our goal at UConn Health is to do everything in our power to promote and support healthy moms and healthy babies.”