FORT WORTH - Each day brings excitement for Jennifer Kittinger, who watches in amazement at how strong little Abby is getting at Cook Children's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.
Abby was born two months early and came in weighing two pounds, and that led to problems with Jennifer producing enough milk to breast feed.
"It's so important," Kittinger said. "The best thing you can do for a premature baby, like Abagail, is provide breast milk."
So, she's grateful moms like her can turn to The Mothers' Milk Bank of North Texas (MMBNT), which collects breast milk from donors.
The facility workers screen potential mothers over the phone, and then moms can drop off breast milk they've pumped. The screening process is similar to that of a blood bank, where blood is tested to ensure certain medications have not been taken and certain illnesses are not detected.
If the human milk is deemed healthy, much of is sent Cook Children's milk bank to help critically ill and premature infants. Diane Bonham is Cook Children's lactation consultant.
"Every day, doctors credit breast milk for saving kids lives," Bonham said. "It absolutely makes a difference."
Donor breast milk is a growing need. The Mother's Milk Bank has gone from serving three hospitals to 50.
The pasteurization process is perfected. It dispensed 5,000 ounces of donated breast milk when it first opened in 2004, and in 2011, they produced more than 250,000 ounces. MMBNT also serves six other states, as there are only 10 milk banks in the U.S.
"What it's shown is, word about human milk is spreading," said Amy Vickers, executive director of MMBNT.
For mothers who are interested in giving their surplus milk, they can call the milk bank and begin the donation process.
"Those women who donate milk, God bless them," Kittinger said. "It's pretty awesome they can do that and help these babies."
Kittinger is using her own breast milk now, and Abby is eating better. She was born without her esophagus connecting to her stomach.
The young North Texas mother said it's nice to know, along with the great doctors and nurses helping out, there's this extra cushion of screened, human milk boosting babies' immune systems and preventing further complications.
"They're just another part of that to help you get her to the point that she can survive and she can go home," Kittinger said.
Abby is scheduled to leave Cook Children's in two weeks.