State Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue introduces legislation to establish a human breast milk bank before the Health and Human Services on Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023, in Lincoln. (Zach Wendling/Nebraska Examiner)
LINCOLN — Nebraskans would have access to a human breast milk bank, designed to assist mostly premature and ill babies, through a proposal in the Legislature.
State Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue introduced Legislative Bill 12, which would create the Nebraska Human Breast Milk Bank and authorize the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services to “establish standards for transporting, processing and distributing commercial human breast milk.”
The department would also be able to convene a committee of subject matter experts for guidance and develop programs to encourage the creation of breast milk depositories and banks.
The department estimated in a fiscal note the bill may cost about $42,000 in its initial year. While Blood said the operation itself could cost millions, she said that could be offset by federal grants.
Blood told the Health and Human Services Committee on Wednesday that her bill would not create a “breast milk grocery store” or make breast milk a commodity. She described being able to produce breast milk 40 years ago when her oldest daughter was born two months prematurely at 3.5 pounds.
“I was one of the lucky moms,” Blood said. “But that was not even the norm, and I remember seeing other moms crying and upset because they felt less than, which of course it doesn’t make you less than, it just means you gotta find an alternative.”
‘Most vulnerable citizens’
Human breast milk provides multiple benefits for babies, Blood and others testifying said. These include fewer ear infections and stomach bugs in the short term, as well as a reduced risk of sudden infant death syndrome, asthma, obesity, lung disease and Type 1 diabetes.
Dr. Kathy Leeper, a breastfeeding medicine specialist with MilkWorks, said her organization is a depot for the milk bank in Arvada, Colorado, near Denver, which is part of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.
The association is a nonprofit that advocates for improved breastfeeding and lactation support and includes 31 banks across the United States and Canada. The nearest banks are in Arvada, 500 miles from Lincoln, and Coralville, Iowa, 300 miles away.
“Having a milk bank in Nebraska would decrease the need to ship the milk so far from our population centers and presumably increase availability to our most vulnerable citizens,” Leeper said.
‘Infant nutrition crisis’
Ann Seacrest, a registered nurse and international board certified lactation consultant, said there is an “infant nutrition crisis” in the country and state.
She said only 33% of all Nebraska infants and 10% of low income infants are exclusively breastfed for the recommended first six months, which she said leads to higher health care costs down the line.
Seacrest said mothers may donate their milk to other families, or even sell it, but without regulation, there can be medical concerns.
Lacie Bolte with the Nebraska AIDS Project said babies born to mothers who are HIV positive can be born HIV negative, though their mothers still could not breastfeed them. Blood’s proposed bill would provide them with safe access to breast milk.
How to invest
Dr. Ann Anderson Berry, a University of Nebraska Medical Center faculty member and medical director of the Nebraska Perinatal Quality Improvement Collaborative, testified neutral in her individual capacity. She said that while donor milk could “bridge” a gap to a mother’s milk, it was not enough.
“Formula is nowhere near as good as a mother’s milk,” Anderson Berry said. “But in many cases, it is better than donor milk for the long term.”
Premature babies or those who need to be in the neonatal intensive care unit often use donor milk, Anderson Berry said, but the “biggest bang for the Nebraska taxpayer’s dollars” would be more support through lactation specialists and space for mothers to pump milk at work.
“We have to decide how we are going to invest,” Anderson Berry said.
Blood encouraged the committee to work with her to get the bill out of committee.
“We consistently hear how we need to do more for Nebraskan moms and infants as part of being a pro-life state,” Blood said. “So now is the time for us to put our money where our mouth is.”
State Sen. Machaela Cavanaugh of Omaha, who fought to maintain a mother’s room in the Capitol, thanked Seacrest and Blood for bringing attention to an “under-discussed issue.”
Seacrest, in response, said, “It’s not so long ago in our state that if you mentioned donor milk to someone it was like, ‘Oh no, oh no. Am I going to get poisoned from it?’
“This is something that shouldn’t be and it may be very, very new to all of you, but keep in mind this is not something that just started to happen,” she said. “It’s been happening since the beginning of time.”
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