Northwest Mothers Milk Bank (NWMMB) advocates for human milk feeding for all infants. The milk bank works to educate families and communities. They collaborate with healthcare systems to improve the health and survival of vulnerable infants in the Pacific Northwest. NWMMB’s vision is a region where all infants have access to the human milk they need. They are dedicated to increasing fair and equitable access to pasteurized donor milk for vulnerable infants when mother’s/parent’s own milk is not available. NWMMB also supports policy and public health measures that promote breastfeeding and align with evidence-based research.
"It is fundamental that human milk banks continue to protect and promote breastfeeding. Advocating for stronger support systems for families is essential and assures positive health outcomes for infants in our communities.”
— Lesley Mondeaux, Executive Director
NWMMB supports the recommendations of medical professionals and organizations that work to promote infant and maternal health. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for infants during the first 6 months of life. In a new policy statement released on June 27, 2022, AAP extends the recommendation of breastfeeding for the first 2 years, in addition to introducing complimentary foods.
The AAP continues to support breastfeeding by citing research that links breastfeeding to benefits for infants such as increased protection against Necrotizing Enterocolitis, decreased rates of lower respiratory tract infections, severe diarrhea, and ear infections. In the recent policy statement, the AAP encourages support of breastfeeding for 2 years or beyond, as long as mutually desired by mothers and their babies. Extending the feeding recommendations comes from research that documents how extended breastfeeding can decrease risk of maternal Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancers of the breast and ovaries. The new AAP recommendations also align with the guidelines from the World Health Organization, which continues to endorse breastfeeding up to or past two years of age.
Although AAP now recommends extended breastfeeding, most babies in the United States are not breastfeeding for as long as these guidelines call for. The most recent reports from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that only 56.7% of babies are breastfed at 6 months and 35% of babies are still breastfed at 1 year. Given the recommendation to extend breastfeeding to 2 years, the cultural and social barriers to breastfeeding must be considered.
The AAP acknowledges that barriers to breastfeeding include stigma and lack of support in the workplace. The new recommendations’ authors do not want to make families feel guilty if they are unable to participate in extended breastfeeding due to these barriers. The lead author of the AAP’s new recommendations Dr. Joan Meek said, “We need societal changes that will help support this, such as paid leave, more support for breastfeeding in public, and child care facilities and workplace support.” According to AAP, policies that support breastfeeding include universal paid maternity leave, rights to breastfeed in public places, insurance coverage for lactation support and breast pumps, on-site childcare, universal workplace break time and private lactation rooms, and rights to breastfeed in childcare centers and lactation rooms in schools.
NWMMB will continue to align with policy changes and research that supports breastfeeding and increases access to human milk for all babies. In June, the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections (PUMP) for Nursing Mothers Act (S. 1658) failed to pass in the Senate. This act would have strengthened the Break Time for Nursing Mothers law by expanding workplace protections for lactating workers, clarifying employer’s obligations under the law and ensuring breastfeeding mothers have access to appropriate remedies. The PUMP Act would have extended breastfeeding protections at work to at least 9 million nursing parents during the ongoing formula shortage.
The U.S. Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) has shared steps for continued advocacy to get the PUMP Act passed. They highlight contacting local U.S. Senate offices in support of the PUMP act, calling attention to the bill in the media, and demonstrating support from local businesses and organizations. USBC has developed a sign-on letter for organizations urging Senate passage of the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act. NWMMB has signed this letter and invites others to join them.
Another proposed law that would provide lactation accommodations in the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act. This bill is waiting for a Senate vote after passing the House in May 2021. The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would strengthen protections for pregnant people outlined in the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act so that workers can receive improved accommodations in the workplace. A two-thirds majority of pregnant workers have lost accommodation cases since 2014 due to unclear language of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Passing the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would be a step in the right direction towards making structural changes, providing support for the AAP guidelines for extended breastfeeding to be put widely into practice.
In 2022, NWMMB took one small step in reducing barriers to breastfeeding by acquiring the pump rental program from Nursing Mothers Counsel of Oregon (NMC). They are honored to carry on NMC’s tradition of offering affordable rates for families on their breastfeeding journey. The program offers hospital-grade pumps to families in the Portland Metro, SW Washington, and Hood River communities.
As Northwest Mothers Milk Bank celebrates World Breastfeeding Week, then continues with National Breastfeeding Month throughout August, we pledge to step-up for breastfeeding. As an organization they will continue working collaboratively to increase access to human milk diets for all infants, as well as identifying and breaking down access barriers to breastfeeding and human milk.
About the Author
Delaney Hartmann has worked at Northwest Mothers Milk Bank since early 2021 in the milk processing lab, while also contributing to the shipping and communications departments. Next month, Delaney will begin a master's program in nurse-midwifery at Vanderbilt University. She is excited to bring her knowledge and passion for human milk banking to her work as a midwife.