All babies are born vulnerable and in need of some TLC, but premature babies face more adversity right from the start. Besides their increased likelihood of developing respiratory and cardiovascular issues, jaundice, and anemia, preemies are also more vulnerable to a serious disease called Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC).
NEC can wreck a tiny baby’s intestines, leading to inflammation, swelling, problems with food absorption, and even death. And with preemies at a far greater risk of contracting NEC than full-term babies, countless resources and tens of thousands of dollars are spent each year in an effort to protect them from the terrible disease.
But do you know what the No. 1 thing is that helps prevent babies from contracting NEC in the first place? It’s breast milk.
While breast milk is beneficial for all babies (especially in their first few months of life), experts say it’s particularly instrumental in keeping preemies safe. Many premature babies aren’t physically able to breastfeed at first, which is why pumped breast milk becomes the most viable option. At the same time, not all moms are able to pump a full supply of breast milk for their infants. And this can be especially hard for preemie moms, who are already busy dealing with complicated medical stuff and a variety of emotions, plus shuttling back and forth between the hospital and their home.
As a result, many preemie moms find their milk supplies greatly impacted, and are unable to produce enough milk for their babies. But that doesn’t mean that their babies don’t need or deserve the breast milk.
And that’s where milk banks come in. There are several of these amazing places around the country, all of which take donations of breast milk, pasteurize it so it’s safe for babies, and then deliver it to babies in need (most often premature infants).
Just a few months ago, New York Milk Bank made headlines for its unique delivery system: They’ve enlisted the help of an all-female (and totally badass) motorcycle crew, who volunteer to hand-deliver donated breast milk to babies all across the New York metropolitan area.
And now, the good people at New York Milk Bank have some other fantastic news to celebrate: New York just passed a provision in its budget that will ensure the coverage of donor milk for low-income mothers. (Woohoo!)
New York joins five other states in this newly-passed provision, including California, Kansas, Missouri, Texas, and Utah. But it took some effort to get the Empire state on board. In fact, the New York Milk Bank was part of a long-standing campaign to push the provision through.
In a Facebook post shared April 12, the New York Milk Bank wrote:
“Special thanks to our Executive Board members who advocated long and hard for their fellow New Yorkers and to our amazing supporters who work with premature infants across New York State and know first hand the benefits of using donor milk in the NICU.”
Julie Bouchet-Horwitz, the executive director of The New York Milk Bank, tells Public News Service that at about $4.50 an ounce, is costs roughly $3,200 to supply enough donor breast milk for one preemie baby.
On the other hand, treating a baby for NEC can cost a whopping $350,000. So breastmilk coverage would definitely be advantageous to everyone involved.
“For every six babies that you treat with donor milk, you save one incidence of NEC,” Bouchet-Horwitz tells Public News Service. “So it’s definitely cost effective for them to prevent this disease.”
The New York Milk Bank is currently the only milk bank in New York state. About 3,330 premature babies are born in the New York area each year, and with the expanded insurance coverage, the bank could see a huge increase in their demand for donated milk.
Although the milk bank just opened its doors last September, Bouchet-Horwitz tells Public News Service that they are absolutely prepared for this increase in demand.
“We knew that about 200,000 ounces would be needed to feed these babies,” she added. “We planned to meet that need and have everything in place for when this happened so that’s what we prepared for.”
How amazing is that? And think of all the incredible moms who went out of their way to pump and donate their milk for these babies in need.
According to Public News Service, the New York state coverage is currently limited to the mothers who receive their insurance through Medicaid. Other insurance companies do sometimes cover donor milk for preemies, but it is mostly on a case-by-case basis. However, Bouchet-Horwitz hopes this move by New York will spur more insurance companies to follow suit.
“We’re hoping that this will infiltrate down to the public in general the importance of human milk and how species-specific it is, what a specialized food it is and first food for all babies,” she explains to Public News Service.
Yes! Let’s hope more insurance companies (and more states!) begin to offer this coverage. All babies deserve the best start to life, and our most vulnerable babies deserve the awesome extra protection that breastmilk can provide them.
If you would like to find a breast milk donation center in your area, visit the Human Milk Banking Association of America to learn more.