There's a growing body of evidence pointing to the benefits of breast milk for infants and now area hospitals are shipping in donated milk all in an effort to offer the city's sickest and smallest infants a better chance at survival. NY1's Erin Billups filed the following report.

Helen Rios' amniotic sac ruptured when she was just 24 weeks pregnant. In an emergency c-section her daughter Ayvah was born basically four months early.

The team running Bellevue Hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care unit encouraged Rios to pump - they then fed Ayvah her milk through a feeding tube.

"She gets the nutrients that every baby should have. She needs that especially in her condition," says Rios.

Rios says she believes the breast milk has helped Ayvah steadily gain weight.

"She's responding very well," she says.

But not every mother with a child in the NICU can produce the needed milk. So, hospitals like Bellevue are turning to donated breast milk to try and give other preemies the extra layer of protection breast milk offers.

"Formula is great and we have special premature formulas, but it's not as good as breast milk," says Dr. Elena Wachtel, Regional Perinatal Center Co-Director at Bellevue Hospital.

Last fall, Bellevue was among the first to begin shipping milk in from the Northeast's only bank in Boston.

"They will check for all of the viruses like HIV, Hepatitis B," explains Dr. Wachtel.

Kept in a special fridge, the milk has also been pasteurized to kill common bacteria. But enough of the helpful bacteria and antibodies remain and have been shown to protect preemies from a dangerous gastrointestinal infection called necrotizing enterocolitis and hospital acquired infections.

"Since they are very small and they don't have a lot of antibodies that pass from the mother through the placenta during the third trimester, they basically cannot protect themselves from infection very well," sasy Dr. Wachtel.

We're still learning all the benefits of breast milk but Dr. Wachtel says when hospitals offer this service she believes they're helping to give babies a leg up.

"And possibly better neurodevelopmental outcome, which is also very important," she adds.

NYU Langone just began offering NICU babies donor milk. North Shore LIJ does as well. Maimonides is currently in the approval process.