RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- It's not called the liquid gold of infant nutrition for nothing.
"It's a medicine," Alicia Siry, a nurse at WakeMed Cary's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, told ABC11. "Every drop counts."
The NICU is the main benefactor for donated breast milk, a precious resource that is in high demand and short supply. The WakeMed Milk Bank provides 250,000 ounces of donated breast milk to 44 NICUs in eight states.
"Imagine being in this environment," Siry said of the families in the NICU. "It's a stressful environment, so mothers' ability to make milk is limited or delayed. This bridge with donor milk is saving some families."
Montana Wagner-Gillespie, the milk bank's manager, explained most of the NICU infants are born prematurely.
"I think we're all used to donating canned food around this time of year, but the NICUs that use breast milk need its most this time too," she said. "(Preterm babies) are much more vulnerable and they have immature immune systems, so they need those antibodies that breast milk provides to protect them during their stay in the NICU."
Indeed, there are several factors that may lead to a preterm birth, which physicians consider a birth before 37 weeks. The CDC, reports that opioids is a key risk factor for preterm births, and data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services shows a staggering 893 percent rise in the rate of newborns hospitalized for drug withdrawal between the years 2004 to 2015. National studies have further confirmed the trend amid the ongoing opioid epidemic, which shows no signs of slowing amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic.
About 10% of all infants are born preterm, according to the CDC, but the rate among African American women (14.4%) is about 50% higher than that of white women (9.1%) and Hispanic women (9.8%).
How you can donate to the Milk Bank
To generate the 250,000 ounces of milk needed every year, the Milk Bank depends on donations from about 200-300 mothers at any given time. There is a screening process for the prospective donors and then there's a full lab to pasteurize the milk and prepare it for distribution.
Most moms in good health can donate milk, but there are some restriction. Donating milk is also convenient as there are several pickup and dropoff options.