The General Assembly on Thursday approved a bill package sponsored by Assemblywomen Pamela Lampitt and Gabriela Mosquera to protect nursing babies as the practice of sharing breast milk rises in popularity.
“The practice of sharing breast milk has a long history dating back to the days of wet nurses,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “Since the rise of the Internet and social media sites like Facebook, mothers having trouble nursing have been able to connect with one another to share milk. “While this may be a godsend in some cases, breast milk, like blood, is a bodily fluid so there are many risks that parents should be aware of when it comes to sharing untested milk.”
The first bill (A-3702), approved by a vote of 77-0-1, would require the state Health Department (DOH) to establish a public awareness campaign to advise pregnant women, new parents, and women who are breast feeding their children about the dangers of casual milk sharing.
Casual milk sharing, which is growing in popularity due to the Internet’s ability to connect those in need, is an informal arrangement in which a mother donates human breast milk that has not been collected, processed, stored, distributed, or sold by a human milk bank to a parent who is unable to nurse, or is in need of additional breast milk to feed, their child.
“We want to make sure that any milk banks operating in New Jersey are following the strictest protocol to protect the health of the babies and their mothers,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Gloucester). “No responsible parent would give their baby a blood transfusion without first having it tested and the same should go for breast milk.”
The lawmakers noted that there are many babies, particularly premature ones, who cannot digest formula properly, making breast milk an imperative. However, the limited number of licensed human milk banks in the country can be costly, especially for a family on a fixed income, giving rise to free sharing services that have cropped up online.
Under the provisions of the bill, the campaign would, at a minimum, provide information on: risk factors associated with casual milk sharing, including disease transmission and contamination from drugs, germs, or chemicals; the federal Food and Drug Administration’s warning against mothers using donated breast milk obtained directly from individuals or other unknown sources; and human milk banks and the procedures they use to select donors and collect, process, store, dispense, or sell donated breast milk.
The information would be disseminated through local health agencies and clinics, physicians, health care facilities, pharmacies, libraries, community-based outreach programs and organizations, and the Department of Health’s Internet site.
The second bill (A-3703), approved by a vote of 77-0-1, would require “human milk banks” to be licensed by the state Department of Health in order to operate. Human milk banks are an organized service for the selection of a donor and the collection, processing, storage, and distribution of donated human breast milk to a hospital for use by low birth weight babies or new mothers with delayed lactation, or directly to a parent, with a physician’s prescription order, who is unable to nurse, or is in need of additional breast milk to feed the parent’s child.
Under the bill, each approved licensed must be renewed annually. The bill also gives DOH the authority to inspect human milk banks, including records, files, and other data.
The bill also requires DOH to promulgate rules and regulations for the operation and maintenance of human milk banks, including: staff qualifications; procedures for selecting and screening potential donors; standards for the collection, processing, storage, and distribution of donated breast milk; the maintenance and confidentiality of milk bank records; and license application. In promulgating the regulations, DOH would also give consideration to applicable regulations or recommendations made by federal or national agencies or organizations.
The bill also gives DOH the authority to take civil action if a milk bank violates provisions of the bill or creates dangerous conditions. Anyone found in violation of certain provisions would be subject to a penalty of anywhere from $100 to $1,000 for the first offense and anywhere from $500 to $5,000 for the second or any subsequent offense.
Both bills now head to the Senate for consideration.