AKRON, Ohio - Got milk?
The Mothers' Milk Bank of Ohio wants it.
Ohio is facing a milk shortage — as in human breast milk.
The nonprofit milk bank that processes donated human breast milk to distribute primarily to sick and premature babies can't keep up with demand.
When the Mothers' Milk Bank of Ohio started in 2005, it distributed about 5,000 ounces of pasteurized human breast milk per month to neonatal intensive care units and other medical providers.
Today, roughly 22,000 ounces are being shared monthly.
During one recent month, "we could have sent out 30,000 ounces if we had enough," said registered nurse and lactation consultant Diane Bates, who coordinates the state human milk bank, based at Grant Medical Center in Columbus.
As awareness grows about the many benefits of breast milk, demand has increased significantly in recent years.
In some cases, mothers are even buying breast milk from lactating women who sell it online — a practice that's discouraged by health experts because of the lack of oversight and testing.
The American Academy of Pediatrics this year issued a policy statement indicating that "all preterm infants should receive human milk."
"Mother's own milk, fresh or frozen, should be the primary diet. If mother's own milk is unavailable despite significant lactation support, pasteurized donor milk should be used."
At Akron Children's Hospital, all newborns in the neonatal intensive care unit and special care nurseries weighing less than 3.3 pounds are given donated breast milk — with parental consent — if mothers are unable or unwilling to provide their own milk, said Dr. Anand Kantak, director of neonatology.
Mothers are encouraged to pump their own breast milk for their babies whenever possible, Kantak said.
"Breast milk is medicine that no one can provide but the moms," he said. At least 75 percent of NICU mothers with very low birthweight babies now provide breast milk for their babies, compared to less than half about four years ago, he said.
Premature babies benefit from human breast milk, because it is more easily digested and protects against infections and potentially fatal intestinal problems, Kantak said.
Studies also have shown breast milk improves cognitive development and lowers the risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
Some mothers, however, can't produce enough to feed their child because of illness, use of certain medications, previous breast surgeries or other issues, Kantak said. In those cases, pasteurized breast milk from the donor bank can replace or supplement the mother's supply.