A few weeks ago I spent the day at the Mothers' Milk Bank of New England's first annual conference. It was a great event, with people from all over New England and many good presentations on the use of donor milk.
The sponsoring milk bank (you may remember from a flurry of posts I wrote about the Ideablob contest last year) is currently dispensing milk from the Mothers' Milk Bank of Ohio, and expects to be processing milk later this year for NICUs all over our region. Currently, the nearest milk banks to our area are in Ohio or North Carolina.
The night before the conference some of us gathered to learn more about how to open a donor breastmilk "depot," where approved donors can drop off their milk to be stored until it's shipped to the milk bank. Our local breastfeeding coalition has been working to open a depot at a pediatric practice where I work.
The most striking things to me about the presentations at the conference were: 1) how incredibly powerful donor milk can be in preventing serious, life-threatening conditions like necrotilizing enterocolitis (NEC) and late onset sepsis, and 2) how astonishing it is that insurance companies often don't pay for it. One neonatologist talked about the hours she spends faxing studies to insurance companies and arguing over the phone to try to get donor milk covered for her patients.
You may have heard that pasteurized donor milk can cost $3.00 to $4.50 an ounce. That might sound like a lot. But consider that a tiny preemie who is primarily receiving her mother's own milk may need a supplement of only a few ounces a day. Then compare that to the estimated $350,000 cost of surgically treating NEC. That number doesn't even start to take into account the lifelong medical costs from that episode of NEC.
I'm not going to pretend to understand how insurance companies look at something like this, but doesn't it seem worth it to pay for donor milk?
The most inspiring thing about the conference was the number of people - neonatologists in particular - who are dedicated to making donor milk part of the standard of care for tiny preterm babies. People have been at this for a long time, but I still felt like I was at the birth of something big - a moment to look back on when donor milk is as accepted as any other therapy for vulnerable babies.