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Houlahan, Duckworth Lead Bipartisan Push to Expand Access to Donor Breast Milk

The bipartisan, bicameral bill was inspired by a lactation consultant at Paoli Hospital.

Houlahan, Duckworth Lead Bipartisan Push to Expand Access to Donor Breast Milk

by Office of Representative Chrissy Houlahan

Houlahan tours the maternity ward with Main Line Health Director of Nursing Anthony DiOrio, Paoli Hospital President Jim Paradis, Director of Legislative and External Affairs Shannon Royer, and RN maternity staff (May 2022).

On Thursday, Sept. 14, U.S. Representatives Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA-06), Stephanie Bice (R-OK-05), and Maria Salazar (R-FL-27), along with U.S. Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) and Marco Rubio (R-FL), introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to increase federal support for—and expand access to—donated breast milk for parents and their medically-vulnerable infants at non-profit milk banks nationwide. The bipartisan Access to Donor Milk Act of 2023 would allow state agencies to use the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) funding to promote the benefits and need for donor milk, as well as allow WIC funds to support donor milk activities in states.

“Many of the best ideas in Congress come from everyday Americans in our communities; this bill was no exception,” said Rep. Houlahan. “In May of 2022, I visited the maternity ward at Paoli Hospital, where I spoke with a lactation consultant who shared with me her concerns about a reliable supply of safe donor breast milk, especially for vulnerable infants. When we took a hard look, what we found was a gray space of federal regulation regarding donor breast milk. This legislation reflects the strength of democracy because we can make lasting change when we speak up. I’m proud to work with my Republican colleagues, Reps. Bice and Salazar, in the House, and we could not ask for a better partner in the Senate than Senator Duckworth and now Senator Rubio. Together, we will protect our most vulnerable infants and give parents safe, reliable choices in infant nutrition.”

Pasteurized donor milk from an accredited milk bank recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics is a safe and healthy option for parents who may seek additional breast milk. Just weeks before the infant formula crisis dominated headlines, Houlahan visited the maternity ward at Paoli Hospital in her district, where she heard from an award-winning lactation consultant and doula, Donna Sinnot, about the value of donor milk for babies with a medical need and the barriers around awareness, regulation, and coverage that prevent donor breast milk from reaching infants.

At that time, Donna Sinnot shared, “When Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan visited Paoli Hospital’s Maternity Unit, we discussed the value of Pasteurized Human Donor Milk for medically fragile infants as a low-cost intervention that saves lives. I’m so proud it inspired this legislation.”

Through close collaboration with stakeholders, Houlahan and Duckworth championed this legislation to help expand access to donor milk as a healthy option for infants in need and ensure no family is left without the food they need to feed their babies—like many were during the infant formula crisis—again.

“For infants born premature or with serious medical conditions, access to donor milk is one of the best resources available,” said Sen. Duckworth. “I’m proud to work with Senator Rubio and Congresswoman Houlahan to introduce our bipartisan Access to Donor Milk Act so we can support donor milk banks nationwide and help ensure families have what they need to raise strong, healthy babies.”

“I am proud to support the Access to Donor Milk Act because I believe it is essential for babies to have access to the nutrients they need to thrive,” said Sen. Rubio. “This bill would help to increase the availability of donor breast milk and make it more affordable for families. Donor breast milk is a safe and effective alternative to formula and contains numerous health benefits for mothers and babies. I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this important legislation to improve the health of infants across the country.”

“As a mother of two, I am a proud co-lead of this bipartisan legislation, which will promote healthy families and help mitigate the impacts of any future infant formula shortages,” said Rep. Bice. “Oklahoma’s Fifth Congressional District is fortunate enough to have the Oklahoma Mother’s Milk Bank, allowing abled mothers to donate safe pasteurized milk to infants in need. I look forward to working towards delivering results to families across the country.”

“Feeding and nourishing our infants should be as easy as possible whether parents use breast milk, formula, or donor milk,” said Rep. Salazar. “As a mother of two beautiful daughters, I am proud to co-lead legislation that will, especially in times of crisis, help suppliers meet demand for safe and healthy donor milk.”

The Access to Donor Milk Act of 2023 is supported by a wide-ranging coalition of organizations, including 1,000 Days, an Initiative of FHI Solutions; 2020 Mom; African American Breastfeeding Network; American Academy of Family Physicians; American Academy of Pediatrics; Association of Maternal & Child Health Programs; Human Milk Banking Association of North America; Institute for the Advancement of Breastfeeding & Lactation Education; March of Dimes; Mom Congress; MomsRising; National Partnership for Women & Families; National WIC Association; National Women’s Health Network; NEC Society; Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere; The Lactation Network; US Breastfeeding Committee; United States Lactation Consultant Association; and ZERO TO THREE.

“Pediatricians understand the health benefits that human milk provides newborns, especially those with very low birth weight,” said AAP President Sandy Chung, MD, FAAP. “Unfortunately, access to donor milk in our country is significantly limited, leaving too many infants who could benefit from it without a way to receive it – the Access to Donor Milk Act seeks to change that. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) supports this bipartisan legislation and the work it would do to reach more families in need. We thank Senators Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Representatives Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.), Maria Salazar (R-Fla.), and Stephanie Bice (R-Okla.) for their leadership, and we call on Congress to swiftly advance this important bill.”

“Non-profit milk banks have an impressive history of both safety and outcomes for the most medically vulnerable infants,” said Lindsay Groff, Executive Director of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.“HMBANA thanks the sponsors of this bill for their focus on the well-being of children and families. We hope that Congress moves swiftly to take up this important piece of legislation to ensure that more families have access to donor milk.”

The bipartisan Access to Donor Milk Act of 2023 would:

Read the full text of the bill here.

Houlahan is an Air Force veteran, an engineer, a serial entrepreneur, an educator, and a non-profit leader. She represents Pennsylvania’s 6th Congressional District, which encompasses Chester County and southern Berks County. She serves on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. She is the recipient of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Abraham Lincoln Leadership for America Award, which “recognizes members who demonstrate the bipartisan leadership and constructive governing necessary to move our country forward,” and the Congressional Management Foundation’s 2022 Democracy Award for best Constituent Services in Congress.