Donor human milk can provide a lifeline for premature infants and reduce racial and ethnic disparities in birth outcomes. A new Essential Hospitals Institute report highlights how hospitals can promote its use through guidelines, staff training, patient education, and leadership support.
The report presents the findings of a project by the Institute, with funding from the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, to examine and better understand how essential hospitals use donor human milk.
Donor human milk can help prevent necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a life-threatening condition that occurs most frequently among premature babies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the rate of preterm births among Black patients in 2020 was about 50 percent higher than among white and Hispanic women — a health disparity that puts their infants at greater risk of NEC.
Through interviews with staff of essential hospitals that have a level III or level IV neonatal intensive care unit, researchers identified:
- practices for establishing and operating a donor human milk program;
- lessons from those experiences; and
- challenges, including securing funding, monitoring and tracking supplies, and ensuring babies receive the proper amount of donor milk.
The report, Essential Hospitals’ Use of Donor Human Milk, makes four recommendations:
- Obtain hospital leadership support, including by developing a business plan that describes donor human milk use and its value for the hospital and patients.
- Begin a donor human milk program as a quality improvement initiative by starting small, evaluating, and improving.
- Train staff on the value of donor human milk, their roles and responsibilities, and how to interact with parents and guardians.
- Raise awareness about the benefits of donor human milk among parents and guardians and ensure their consent to its use.