For some special-needs babies, including premature infants, babies who are allergic or have intolerance to formula, or babies who cannot drink their own mother's milk because of the risk of passing infections like HIV, banked donor milk is not only required for their health, but for their survival.
According to Ziegler, premature babies thrive better on breast milk than on formula. They are even able to leave the hospital earlier than formula-fed babies.
"Babies who receive mother's milk have fewer infections and fewer problems with their bowel, specifically necrotizing entercolitis," says Zeigler.
Necrotizing entercolitis, or NE, is an intestinal infection that kills more than one-third of the infants who get it. And premature infants, especially those under 3 pounds in weight, are more at risk for the infection.
Craig Anderson, director of newborn medicine at Grant Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio, says studies have shown the risk of this intestinal infection is reduced when premature babies receive breast milk.
"Our first choice is mother's own milk, but there are situations when a mother can't supply her own," says Anderson. "The order of preference for newborn nutrition is one, mom's own milk; two, donor breast milk, and three, formulas."
Anderson believes human milk banks serve a very important purpose and will become more common. Moms like Elizabeth Schmid certainly agree.