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Jonah's Milk: Mother's Milk Bank

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Morgantown, WV -

"This little guy was born at a hospital that didn't use donor milk, and he got that necrotizing enterocolitis," said Diane Bates, with Mothers' Milk Bank of Ohio. "He had to have surgery, had to have part of his gut removed. They gave him formula again, and he got nec again." "That's something the human breast milk really helps with?" I asked. "Yes, absolutely," said Bates. "Once they put him on donor milk, there was no more nec, he started to gain weight, and he was able to go home."

This wall is full of success stories; the tiniest and sickest of babies, who received donor breast milk.

"This is little Elizabeth," Bates said. "She has a syndrome that leaves her very weak. And when her family first called us, she was two years old and only weighed 15 pounds. Once they put her on the donor milk, she gained 15 pounds in a year."

So what exactly is a milk bank?

"A milk bank is a wonderful little place where we receive donated milk from moms, and we collect it, we make sure everything is labeled appropriately, once the mom's screened, we pasteurize the milk to make sure there's no remaining bacteria, we re-freeze the milk, and then we ship it out to recipient hospitals," said Fran Feehan, the director of Mothers' Milk Bank of Ohio.

They make it easy for donor moms by sending supplies they need and boxes to ship it back.

"How important is donated breast milk?" I asked Feehan. "It's hugely important," she said. "It's a limited resource, it's a scarce resource. In a lot of ways it's similar to the Red Cross how we're hearing about a blood shortage. It's something only women can provide, only a small number of women can provide, so every ounce of it is critical."

Inside, the breast milk holds antibodies, which help build a baby's immune system. It delivers nutrients and fats, in a way that formula doesn't.

"One of the most important things about the donor milk is that it's so much more easily absorbed by the babies than formula is," Feehan said.

So why do most hospitals in our country use formula instead of donated milk?

"The milk is $4.25 an ounce," Bates said. "The formula companies give them the milk for free. So all of a sudden, they say, well, you have to pay $4.25 cents an ounce, and they say, ‘well, we don't want to pay that!'"

Money is the simple answer. But look at it from another monetary standpoint.

"If a baby gets sick; every day in that NICU costs money," Bates said. "You have to have your staff, you have to have your medication. If you can have a baby go home one day early, you've probably paid for the cost of donor milk."

Banking more than just breast milk, his place is a way to help moms like Heidi who have lost a newborn give their baby's short life a chance to live on through others.