Potent policy: TLN unequivocally supports the Access to Donor Milk Act
Recently, Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), along with U.S. Representatives Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA-06), Stephanie Bice (R-OK-05), and Maria Salazar (R-FL-27), introduced a bipartisan bill to the United States Senate that could drastically improve health outcomes for vulnerable infants. The Access to Donor Milk Act of 2023 is designed to protect and expand access to pasteurized, human donor milk, and recognizes the critical role that nonprofit milk banks play in providing a safe and high-quality resource for our nation’s most at-risk babies.
The Lactation Network unequivocally supports this work, and our CEO, Sarah Kellogg Neff, has partnered closely with Senator Duckworth to define, advise, and promote the bill for its life-altering impact on lactating parents and their families.
Put simply: this bill is a game-changer. Here’s why.
A complex and overlooked medical issue — with significant implications
When parents cannot adequately produce enough breast milk to feed their children, or if doctors advise parents to provide their newborns with additional milk to meet nutritional needs, parents may be referred to donor milk banks.
Without an adequate number of breast milk donors, local breast milk banks with appropriate facilities to store and distribute milk, or the insurance coverage or financial resources to get breast milk, desperate parents have turned to potentially harmful options for relief. Parents often resort to sourcing untested, unpasteurized milk from strangers via online marketplaces, begging insurance providers to cover their breast milk needs, or struggling under the burden of steep $3-5 per ounce costs (babies typically require 25 ounces of breast milk per day).
The bill cites findings that we’ve long known: human milk is the optimal first food for infants and medically vulnerable infants derive significant health benefits from human milk, including decreasing rates of necrotizing enterocolitis (a gastrointestinal disorder causing inflammation of intestinal tissue, which can lead to serious illness and sometimes death.)
Further, nonprofit breast milk banks are standing in the gap for parents while providing a critical medical service, and the nonprofit breast milk banking model ensures a safe and high-quality resource for the nation’s most vulnerable infants. This bill offers visibility and support for nonprofit donor breast milk bank infrastructure and their continued support of families. The stakes couldn’t be higher.
Healthier families and more accessible care, thanks to necessary policy
The Access to Donor Milk Act amends the Child Nutrition Act of 1966 to include support for breast milk donor activities, allowing State agencies to use funds for collecting, storing, and transferring unprocessed human milk to a nonprofit breast milk bank. It also establishes $3 million in emergency capacity funding for milk banks, providing competitive grants to eligible entities for expanding emergency capacity with respect to banking donor breast milk. These funds can be used to cover donor milk collection, storage, pasteurization, transfer, and processing fees, increasing staffing and supplies needed at nonprofit breast milk banks, and purchasing consumable products needed for donor milk processing. This bill would also:
- Empower State Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infant and Children (WIC) Agencies to use excess funds to purchase coolers to collect and store donated milk before it is collected by a donor milk bank;
- Establish a donor milk awareness program at the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and develop a public awareness campaign; and
- Require FDA to convene a public meeting of stakeholders to examine potential donor milk regulation and develop guidance on donor milk best practices.
This bill is a vital step in ensuring that medically vulnerable infants have access to the best possible nutrition and healthcare. It is critical to the health and well-being of these infants, and we thank Senator Duckworth for her dedication to this cause.
Notes on the donor milk journey for parents, and prospective donors
For prospective breast milk donors: If you’ve read about this policy and you’re inspired to become a breast milk donor, you’re already poised to become an invaluable resource in this delicate network of assistance for families. The need is significant and the impact of your donations will likely be robust, but there are considerations you’ll need to make before you can offer your milk for consumption.
- Consult with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, or IBCLC. Prospective donors should work with an IBCLC for lactation and pumping support to ensure their baby’s nutritional needs are met and possible oversupply issues are managed.
- Contact your nearest breast milk bank for pre-screening. You’ll likely be asked some health questions about you and your baby to ensure the quality of your milk, as well as questions about the quantity of supply you’re able to donate.
- Fill out healthcare provider release forms and bank-specific paperwork. Each breast milk bank is different, but many will require you to fill out consent forms and guidelines for the collection and storage of your milk, as well as forms that show your provider and pediatrician are aware of your donation plans.
- Have a blood test. You’ll likely be tested to ensure you aren’t positive for STDs or hepatitis, all of which could travel through breast milk.
- Send your supply to your breast milk bank of choice. There should be a number of accommodations you are entitled to ensure your donation is as smooth as possible: you may be able to ship your milk to your local breast milk bank, have it picked up by bank staff, or you can deliver milk to a convenient drop-off location designated by the bank.
For parents: Whether you’re prenatal or just about to begin your breastfeeding journey, now is the time to consider the role donor milk may play in your baby’s feeding needs. Follow these steps to learn how to get donor breast milk:
- Call your insurance company and check with your employer to see if they cover donor milk provisions should you need them. Use a referring hospital to help you advocate for your family’s needs, should they suggest your child require donor milk.
- Schedule a visit with a lactation consultant (IBCLC) to prepare for scenarios if you require supplementary milk for your child, and investigate how to identify if you meet the requirements to donate to other families once you begin to feed.
- And if you’ve begun your breastfeeding journey, contact your local milk bank to see if you are a candidate for human milk donation.