Human milk donor bill advances

Oberlander-sponsored bill clears House and Senate

HARRISBURG Legislation ensuring that human donor breast milk is held to the highest possible health and safety standards is one step away from being signed into law after clearing both the House and Senate this week, said Rep. Donna Oberlander (R-63), sponsor of the proposal.

Banked donor milk is used in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) and by outpatients with medical issues. When a mother's own milk is unavailable in the NICU, the use of banked donor milk has been shown to decrease mortality rates and the incidence of serious complications.

House Bill 1001 would require on the Pennsylvania Department of Health to regulate milk banks, which are entities that gather, process and distribute mothers' milk for medically fragile newborns.

Under the bill, milk banks would be required to medically screen donors and to contact the health care provider of the donor's baby to verify adequate growth.

The donor milk must be processed to inactivate pathogens (pasteurized), and post-processing bacterial cultures must be performed.

"With this bill, we are seeking to ensure that the milk processed and distributed by these milk banks is of the highest quality and the donor banks operate with the highest level of integrity," Oberlander said.

"Although most milk banks are already accredited by national agencies, state licensure and regulation should give the parents and caretakers of these infants additional peace of mind that the nutrition given to their precious newborn is safe," added Oberlander.

According to the March of Dimes, breast milk has demonstrated health benefits for pre-term and very low birth weight babies.

Nearly 14,000 babies are born pre-term in Pennsylvania each year, which cost more than $1 billion in medical costs last year alone.

It is important to note that breast milk donors are not regulated by the bill in any way, and the bill does not affect informal milk sharing.

This legislation, which initially passed the House last June before being amended with further protections, has the support of fellow milk banks and many medical professionals, including key organizations and physicians who understand the importance of donated mothers' milk.

Once reaching the governor's desk, he has 10 days to sign the bill into law.