A breast milk bank at Bellevue's Overlake Hospital is helping premature infants get healthy.

From the moment they are born, preemies are struggling to survive. Doctors do their best, but a mom who is already breast feeding her healthy baby can donate her extra milk to help keep those tiny hearts beating.

“Milk sharing, so when a mother is sharing her milk with another mother's baby, has been going on since there have been humans, and it’s normative many species as well, and it's a way certainly before we had other options to keep babies alive,” said Seattle Children's hospital Neonatologist, Doctor Isabella Knox.

Knox explained that the benefits of human breast milk exceed what formula can offer. While formula can provide food, only breast milk has the antibodies to help babies fight infection.

But when a baby is born premature, the mother's body isn't necessarily ready to breastfeed. The woman must pump because the child can't nurse, a stressful process that can take a while without the baby to help get things started. In the first few days of life, donated breast milk can help that baby grow.

At the Mom and Baby Care Center in Overlake Hospital, there is a drop-off site for milk donation. The milk donated there is sent to the Northwest Mothers Milk Bank to be screened, pasteurized and distributed to babies in need. People who work to process the donated milk call it liquid gold.

“It is an amazing gift, because it truly is the gift of life. This human milk for human babies helps eliminate some of the worst outcomes that we see with very a at-risk baby in the NICU,” said Sandy Salmon, nurse and manager of the Mom and Baby Care Center.

Many of the moms who donate say they overproduce milk while pumping and are happy to share.

“I am blessed with the extra milk, and I can't not give it away to others who so desperately needed to know some of those babies are really it's such a source of nutrition,” says Melissa a mom who donates regularly.

Overlake's Mother's Milk Depot has collected 36,000 ounces of breast milk, which translates to 300 gallons of human milk. If you'd like to get involved call 425-635-6150.