When visitors show up at his home in Maynard, Bearnan Chenault offers a wide, toothless grin. Like many nine-month old babies, he’s on the move — scooting across a colorful playmat with an efficiency that suggests he’ll soon be crawling.

You’d never know he was born seven weeks early and spent his first month hospitalized.

“He couldn’t feed because he was so small,” recalled his mother, Amy Chenault.

His nutrition came through a tube that contained breast milk. His mom was not yet producing milk, so he received something that might sound strange: milk donated by other moms.

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Nine-month-old Bearnan Chenault was born seven weeks early and was fed donated breast milk.
Stephanie Leydon

“I just thought, he needs this to survive,” said Chenault, “because I can’t provide for him what he needs, so we’re going with it.”

Moms donating extra milk is nothing new. More than a century ago, Boston’s Floating Hospital was home to the country’s first donor milk center.

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The first milk bank in the country opened in Boston Floating Hospital more than a century ago.
Courtesy: Mothers' Milk Bank Northeast

These days, breast milk, supplied to hospitals and homes across New England, and as far away as Georgia, is processed at a lab in Newton inside the Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast.

Before they can donate, mothers undergo health screenings. The milk is then pasteurized and kept frozen. Amid growing evidence of breast milk's protective qualities, demand is high.

“The biggest beneficiaries from the milk bank are fragile, premature babies whose mothers do not have enough milk for them,” said milk bank founder Naomi Bar-Yam.

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Donated breast milk is processed at the Mothers' Milk Bank Northeast and sent to homes and hospitals throughout New England.
Howard Powell WGBH News

The milk bank is a nonprofit, and one of the biggest challenges — and expenses — is transporting the milk. This summer help arrived in the form of leather-clad bikers. Members of a group called “Moving Violations” offered to deliver and pick up breast milk at no charge.

“They told us, ‘We love being out on bikes, that’s what we do’,” said Bar-Yam.

The club is all-women and on a late summer day about a dozen members pulled into the milk bank parking lot. They practiced strapping boxes big enough to transport the milk onto the back of their motorcyles and toured the milk bank.

“I was amazed at the need and that you could save a baby’s life,” said Daryll Drew, a member of Moving Violations. “That’s what got to me.”

Like most of the group’s members, Drew works full time. She’ll fit in deliveries as her schedule permits. It’s an ideal project for a group of bikers who value community service as much as an open stretch of road.

“This is right up our alley,” said Drew. “Our club, Moving Violations, tries to do charitable things all through the year, particularly geared toward women and children.”

Like many mothers whose babies benefited from donated milk, Amy Chenault is now giving back. It’s possible the milk she donates will arrive by traditional courier, but she likes the idea it could also get there, perhaps faster, on two wheels.