During the first five months of her infant daughter's life, Felicia Emrich felt like she was Velcroed to her couch.
Emily Joy had a severe tongue tie and a neck condition that meant she couldn't nurse from her mother or eat from a bottle. This meant every two hours during the day, Emrich had to spend 40 minutes finger feeding Emily, using a small tube to drip milk into the infant's mouth.
Emrich didn't have time to be as involved at church and wanted to find a way to serve God, even during this stressful time.
The answer came to her through some extra milk, taking up space in her freezer. For five months, Emrich donated her breast milk at an Oklahoma City hospital.
“When you're stuck at home, it felt good knowing not only that I was doing what was best for Emily but also I was able to help others,” Emrich said. “That felt like a real gift to give that milk.”
Oklahoma doesn't currently have a milk bank. Instead, the OU Medical Center serves as a depot for women like Emrich to drop off their breast milk.
It is then sent to the Mothers' Milk Bank of North Texas in Fort Worth. OU Medical Center buys milk from North Texas, but it would make more sense for Oklahoma to have its own milk bank, said Becky Mannel, a lactation coordinator for OU Medical Center.
Mannel is helping to start the Oklahoma Mother's Milk Bank, a nonprofit organization that seeks to provide donor milk to hospitalized and critically ill babies in Oklahoma and surrounding states.
Organizers hope to work with the Oklahoma Blood Institute among other organizations to get the milk bank started.
OU Medical Center has a large neonatal intensive care unit. Particularly with critically ill babies and premature babies, their outcomes are significantly better when fed their own mothers milk, if possible, and donor breast milk, Mannel said.
Babies who weigh less than three pounds are particularly at risk for gastrointestinal intestinal problems, such as necrotizing enterocolitis, which is death of intestinal tissue, Mannel said.
Babies fed breast milk are at less of a risk of developing such diseases, she said.
But not all babies are getting the milk that they need.
Currently, there is a critical shortage among many milk banks across the nation, said Jean Drulis, president of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.
The majority of milk banks are experiencing shortages because demand has grown substantially.
Linda Davis, the office manager at the Mothers' Milk Bank of North Texas, has seen this firsthand.
The first year the organization started, it sent out 5,000 ounces of milk. The next year, it was 25,000, then 40,000. Last year, it pasteurized more than 200,000 ounces.