(NBC)- A California breast milk bank is seeking donations to help with the skyrocketing demand in their city.
Organizers at San Diego, CA-based Mother's Milk Bank of California is urging women to donate more of their breast milk in an effort to meet their needs.
"It's growing exponentially," said Executive Director Pauline Sakamoto. "We're looking at a good 20 percent increase this year and almost all of that 20 percent is in hospital use."
Sakamoto believes more hospitals are ordering donated breast milk for babies because this year the Surgeon General issued a call to action to support breast feeding and improve access to donor milk.
Now, more neonatal units from hospitals across the western United States are submitting requests to the milk bank in San Jose, which provided 420,000 ounces for babies last year.
Some consider it liquid gold for babies born early.
"The main benefit with a preemie is their digestive tract is immature," Said Dr. Christine Halaburka. Therefore, it's felt that breast milk is better absorbed, the nutrients are better absorbed, the nutrients are more available to the baby, they seem to grow better, there are less cases of an infection."
Because more milk from the San Jose bank is now going to hospitals, there's less available to moms who want breast milk for their healthy babies at home, which is why some moms have turned to the internet to purchase milk donated by other moms.
Some milk is free, but some costs $2 an ounce.
Halaburka warns mothers that using untested milk is risky.
"The viral contamination can be quite serious with Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, HIV virus has been known to be transmitted to babies through breast milk so that would be my concern if you did not have the donor screened, you don't know what's in there," Halaburka said.
At the milk bank in San Jose, donating mothers must undergo a blood test and the milk is heat treated for bacteria.
Sakamoto says during the holidays she expects the supply of donated milk to dwindle even more, so she is hoping moms who are pumping extra will give babies in need one of the best gifts ever.