State senatory for Nebraska's District 3, Carol Blood stands on the floor of the legislature, January 9, 2023
State Sen. Carol Blood, on the floor of the Legislature on Jan. 9, has introduced two bills to create a human breast milk bank in the state. Photo by Zach Wendling/Nebraska News Service

A bill to bring a human breast milk bank to Nebraska would help give mothers and hospitals easier access to donated breast milk for infants while providing standards for transporting, holding and regulating human breast milk, bill supporters say. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants consume only breast milk for the first six months after birth, citing health advantages to breastfeeding, including a reduced risk of sudden infant death syndrome and decreased risk of infections.

However, some parents face barriers that make breastfeeding difficult or impossible. This is where a breast milk bank comes in.

“We have the infant nutrition crisis in our country,” Ann Seacrest, a registered nurse and lactation consultant testified at the bill’s hearing on Feb. 1. “Only 33% of all Nebraska infants are exclusively breastfed for the recommended six months.”

Currently, women who want to use donated breast milk go through either a hospital that receives donated milk from other states, or through channels that are unregulated by the Department of Health and Human Services and have not been tested.

State Sen. Carol Blood’s LB12 creates a framework for a state-run breast milk bank that will help provide mothers and guardians of children with donated breast milk that has been pasteurized and tested to make sure it is safe for consumption.

“When you have moms who for various reasons have a low supply, or there could be a premature birth or even the mom’s anatomy, donating milk is a great way to make sure the babies are getting enough calories and enough food,” said Tiffany Uher, executive director at MilkWorks, which provides resources and support to breastfeeding mothers at its centers in Lincoln and Omaha.

MilkWorks also serves as a collection service for donated milk before sending it to a breast milk bank, the two closest of which are in Colorado and Iowa, both over 300 miles from Lincoln.

“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,” said Dr. Kathy Leeper, the medical director at MilkWorks.

MilkWorks Lincoln 300x281 - Human breast milk bank proposed in Nebraska for mothers and hospitals in need
MilkWorks in Lincoln functions as a health center where mothers can find information, resources and counseling for breast feeding. MilkWorks also functions as a collection site for donated milk. (Photo curtesy of Tiffany Uher/MilkWorks)

Currently, the cost for this method is $25 for every 4 ounces shipped, which adds up over time as babies typically consume 1-2 ounces of breastmilk per feeding, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. With a breast milk bank in Nebraska, the cost of shipping would be reduced.

Not only would LB12 make it easier for places like MilkWorks to decrease the cost of shipping breast milk, as it would be shipped from Nebraska instead of Colorado as it is now,  it would also allow the Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services to establish standards for transporting, processing and distributing human breast milk, according to Blood.

Leeper said the need for a milk bank is great, particularly in hospitals. 

“Most pasteurized donor milk from milk banks is used in hospital neonatal intensive care units where it has been proven to decrease morbidity and mortality in these very vulnerable babies,” Leeper testified.  “Banked milk is also used to treat low blood sugars in the first day after birth in babies who are not born prematurely, but have a low blood sugar temporarily for various reasons.”

According to the Mother’s Milk Bank of Iowa, which is funded by grants and foundations, 80% of their donated milk goes to hospitals and NICUs to help newborns that are premature or have health concerns.

“Milk banks dispense to hospitals and to infants living at home. For infants at home, it is dispensed by prescription,” said Jean Drulis, director and co-founder of Mothers Milk Bank of Iowa.

The Mother’s Milk Bank of Iowa, which was founded in 2002, sends donated breast milk to 49 hospitals in nine U.S. states, and is one of 28 breast milk banks in the U.S.. 

LB12, in conjunction with Blood’s LB13, makes an infant eligible for donated breast milk if it is medically necessary or if the mother is medically or physically unable to breastfeed.

To make sure breast milk is affordable for Nebraskans, Blood suggested using federal funds or grants.

“There are 10s of millions of federal funds available right now that are included in the labor, HHS and agricultural appropriation bills, as well as other grant programming from health care networks that can be used,” Blood said during the hearing.

LB13 also would require medical coverage of human breast milk in Nebraska.

“We consistently hear how we need to do more for Nebraskan moms and infants as part of being a pro-life state,” Blood said at the hearing. “So now is the time for us to put our money where our mouth is.”