When it comes to feeding babies, the medical community maintains that breast milk is best for nourishing newborns. But not every mom is able to produce it. A dozen mothers' milk banks have popped up across the country, connecting modern day wet nurses with mothers and newborns in need. Now the demand is growing faster than the supply.
After years of trying, Melinda and Ed Zirzow finally got their miracle babies...Reese and Reagan.
But the twins came ten weeks early and weighed just two and three pounds.
"Since I was pretty early and severe pre eclampsia, I wasn't producing milk right away, so the hospital donated donor breast milk. We were very happy recipients of that," said Melinda Zirzow.
"We have many mothers who are very ill. So they're not able to establish or maintain an adequate milk supply so that back up supply of donor human milk is critical," said Rainbow Babies and Childrens Nurse Maryann Bratz.
Rainbow Babies and Childrens Hospital among the four dozen facilities working with the mothers milk bank of Ohio. They connect parents of NICU patients and mothers already nursing, to distribute more than 22,000 ounces a month.
"It's great that there are donors our there that have abundant milk supplies and are willing to share, to go above and beyond to help families take care of their critically ill premature babies," said Bratz.
More hospitals using donor milk (and for longer periods of time), coupled with for-profit websites offering to pay moms for their over supply....has left shelves at the non-profit Ohio Mothers Milk Bank awfully bare. There's currently a three week wait for this liquid gold, when precious lives are at stake.
Because of the shortage, rainbow is currently using milk from an Indiana milk bank. They are waiting on a shipment from the Ohio milk bank and they're hoping more donor mothers will come forward.
Shelley Burch is one of those mothers.
"I always said I could feed the whole neighborhood, now I sort of did," she said.
While nursing her second child, she pumped an additional 200 ounces over six months, and shipped it to the milk bank, where it was pasteurized, cultured, then distributed.
"It makes me feel good that I could be helping small babies who could really use that type of nutrition," Burch said.
"We don't have a lot of money so we can't donate to charities, so I give blood and the milk donation seemed like a logical step," Burch said.
The Zirzow twins responded immediately to donor milk...and could be home by Christmas.
"They got stimulated and you could tell that there was some growth," said Ed Zirzow.
"Words can't express what another mom is doing on my behalf, while my babies are continuing to thrive. without their help, who knows how much they'd be able to progress," said Melinda Zirzow.
Insurance will cover the cost for patients in the hospital, but out patients must pay out of pocket. The cost? More than four dollars and ounce.