Breast feeding’s wealth of natural health benefits for both baby and mother, including protection against infant ear infections and even breast and ovarian cancer, have been well documented. But between the ready availability of formula, many moms’ difficulty pumping and storing milk, and varying levels of information and education available to new parents, agencies like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are concerned about the large numbers of mothers unable or neglecting to nourish their child naturally.
Enter The New York Milk Bank (NYMB), our state’s first donor-driven breast-milk bank, whose mission is to establish a safe and reliable source of pasteurized human milk for mothers who can’t produce or access their own. NYMB celebrated its official grand opening today at its location on Old Broadway in Hastings-on-Hudson, with appearances from State Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages. In conjunction with the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA), NYMB aims to both advocate for use of donor breast milk and develop collection sites across New York.
“It’s about changing the availability of donor milk in hospitals, and changing the culture overall,” explains Dr. Boriana Parvez, Director of Development for NYMB. “People become more aware and more knowledgeable about the benefits of human milk. And it’s also about saving lives.”
According to Parvez, every mother produces milk with proteins and other nutrients specific to their child’s needs. This milk is especially important for the health of a premature infant, whose intestinal tract is particularly sensitive to a disease called Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC) if provided milk from another animal.
However, with donor human milk, screened to be as close a match to an infant’s nutritional needs as possible, the infant can develop the proper intestinal bacteria needed to fight these kinds of ailments. Every donor is examined for their health history, infectious diseases, travel history, and more, and then the donation is pasteurized, according to NYMB Founder Julie Bouchet-Horwitz, who presses, “We can’t take any risks.”
While NYMB is the first of its kind in our state, the local nonprofit is not alone in blazing a trail, and carefully follows the same HMBANA guidelines as 22 other U.S. banks. In fact, the first documented breast-milk bank internationally started in Vienna circa the early 1900s, while the first American operation was opened in Boston more than 100 years ago.
One obstacle to its proliferation in New York likely been insurers’ spotty coverage, though there have been cases of reimbursement by insurance carriers. And more encouragingly, the Nickolas Bill, which is supported by Assemblywoman Solages and awaiting action by Governor Cuomo, could lead to Medicaid reimbursement in the near future, in addition to allowing NICUs to prescribe donor milk to premature infants. And with an estimated need of more than nine million ounces annually within over just the next four years, according to Bouchet-Horwitz, this bill may open up access to milk for those who cannot afford it.
“The public needs to be educated on the importance of providing milk to these babies,” she urges, while happily reporting that, “We’ve already received thousands of ounces of donor milk from mothers here in Westchester, and are providing this milk all over New York State.”
For more information about how to donate or access milk, visit the NYMB website or call 212-956-MILK.