What’s being billed as New England’s first donor milk depot has opened on the South Shore, making it more convenient for breastfeeding mothers to donate their milk to help premature and sick infants.

Isis Parenting in Hanover will serve as the collection site, part of a unique collaboration between the early parenting education center and the Mothers’ Milk Bank of New England. The opening is timed to coordinate with World Breastfeeding Week, an international event celebrated the first week of August in more than 170 countries.

A donor milk bank is a not-for-profit service established for collecting, screening, processing and distributing donated human milk primarily to premature and sick babies whose mothers do not have enough milk for their babies.

Prior to being accepted into the milk donation program, volunteer donors are screened in a process that includes a health clearance and blood testing. Once accepted, volunteer milk donors are able to donate frozen breast milk on a one-time or ongoing basis.

The milk is pasteurized, cultured and frozen and sent to more than 100 outpatient centers and a dozen hospitals in New England, including the Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at South Shore Hospital.

“Human milk for very premature infants not only reduces complications, but has lasting effects. It has been shown to improve cognitive function for premature babies at 2 years of age,” says John Fiascone, M.D., NICU medical director at South Shore Hospital in Weymouth.

When an ill infant’s mother is not able to provide milk for her baby, donated human milk is used. Human milk contains specific immune and growth factors not found in formula, says Nancy Holtzman, R.N., a lactation consultant and vice president of clinical content at Isis Parenting.

“The smallest premature babies in particular have immature digestive and immune systems and are especially vulnerable to a potentially fatal gastrointestinal disease called NEC. Studies show feeding these micro-preemies exclusively with breast milk reduces the chances of these and other complications of prematurity,” explains Holtzman.

Nationwide, the supply of donor human milk is inadequate to meet demand for premature and ill infants in need. Naomi Bar-Yam, Ph.D., executive director of the Mothers’ Milk Bank of New England, says the demand for donor milk in the NICU setting is constantly increasing as the research indicates the importance of human milk.

The Mothers’ Milk Bank of New England is asking healthy breastfeeding mothers to consider donating milk to the program. Interested mothers can learn more at www.milkbankne.org.

Once screened and accepted into the human milk donor program, mothers on the South Shore have the convenient option of now using the milk donation depot located at Isis Parenting, 2053 Washington St., in Hanover.

In addition, Bar-Yam says, mothers accepted into the program can also send their donated milk to the milk bank in insulated containers via Federal Express. Currently, there are 83 active donors in Massachusetts and 35 donors in the process of being screened.

Susan Flynn is associate editor for the Boston Parents Paper and BostonParentsPaper.com.