Donated milk, dubbed “liquid gold,” can save the lives of preterm babies whose moms can’t produce milk themselves. But the 3.3 million ounces of milk distributed in 2013 by non-profit milk banks across the country covers less than a quarter of the 9 million ounces needed. With the demand for safe donor milk skyrocketing the market is in much need of a more effective milk banking system to keep up with the exponentially growing demand. International Milk Bank is focused on a modern approach that will ease this supply issue and unlock vast amount of this safety assure breast milk being made available to hospitals and NICUs.

Increased demand of breast milk is in part a result of scientific research showing irrefutably over the last few years that human milk-only feeding to these babies is critical. Human breast milk is rich in nutrients that help tiny preemies grow and antibodies that guard them against infections, which is why more NICU doctors are prescribing it. Thanks to having access to donor milk these babies respond the best in terms of decreased infection rates and shorter hospital stays. Another of the reasons breast milk is such a valued resource is because it can help prevent certain medical conditions, including a bowel condition called necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), which typically affects infants who have a very low birth weight or were born prematurely. After using breast milk in the neonatal intensive care units for two years at two Canadian hospitals, the rate of NEC dropped from 7 percent to 1 percent. This means potentially that breast milk can help save money for hospitals as well. Babies who are given the natural milk are discharged on two days earlier on average.

Breast milk helps preemies fight off infection and promote growth, and it’s easier on their stomachs than formula. Additionally an new study published in the August issue of the journal Current Nutrition & Food Science, explains how breast milk, but not infant formula, fosters colonies of microbiotic flora in a newborn’s intestinal tract that aid nutrient absorption and immune system development. This also results in shorter stays in the NICUs and healthier babies with less complications caused by feeding other then donor breast milk. Studies have shown that breast milk lowers the incidence of diarrhea, influenza and respiratory infections during infancy, while protecting against the later development of allergies, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and other illnesses. As scientists have learned more about the role intestinal flora plays in health, they have gained appreciation for how an infant’s early diet can affect this beneficial microbial universe.