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NY Expands Premature Babies' Access to Breast Milk

About 200,000 ounces of donor breast milk are needed to feed premature babies in New York each year. (The New York Milk Bank)
About 200,000 ounces of donor breast milk are needed to feed premature babies in New York each year. (The New York Milk Bank)
April 11, 2017

NEW YORK – The New York state budget now allows low-income mothers to get donor breast milk for premature babies through Medicaid. Low-weight, premature infants are at high risk of dying from necrotizing enterocolitis, or NEC. The best food to help them ward off the disease is human breast milk, but some mothers don't produce enough.

According to Julie Bouchet-Horwitz, executive director of The New York Milk Bank, it costs about $3,200 to supply enough donor milk for each premature infant while he or she is in the hospital. But treating NEC can cost $350,000.

"For every six babies that you treat with donor milk, you save one incidence of NEC, so it's definitely cost effective for them to prevent this disease," she said.

Pasteurized donor human milk costs $4.50 an ounce. The nonprofit New York Milk Bank is the only donor milk bank operating in the state.

About 3,300 premature infants are born in New York each year, and the availability of Medicaid coverage could increase the demand for donor milk. Although the New York Milk Bank just opened last September, Bouchet-Horwitz says they're ready.

"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."

Private insurance doesn't pay for donor breast milk, but some infants are being covered on a case-by-case basis.

Bouchet-Horwitz thinks the availability of Medicaid coverage may spur insurance companies to add breast milk to their policies and lead to an overall increase in breastfeeding.

"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 explained.

Several other states already provide Medicaid coverage for donor breast milk.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY