New JHL Paper Calls for Standardization of Data on Human Milk Banking

By Monica Buchanan, Media and Public Relations Manager, Connecticut Children’s Medical Center

Photo by Mistel de Varona

Photo by Mistel de Varona

Most healthcare professionals know the health benefits of human milk for infants admitted to the NICU are well documented.  Human milk not only provides essential nutrients, but also helps build immunities in this fragile population.

Unfortunately, most mothers of NICU babies may be unable to provide some or all of the milk their infant needs.  However, the use of donor human milk (DHM) in the NICU setting provides an opportunity for very low birth weight infants (<1500 grams) to receive the valuable benefits of human milk.

While donor human milk undergoes extensive screening and testing to ensure its safety, a first-of-its-kind study by the Connecticut Human Milk Research Center at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, published in the Journal of Human Lactation (JHL), has found a serious lack of standardized data among donor milk banks across North America.  Human Milk Banking Association of North America-affiliated milk banks do not collect consistent data regarding milk donors and milk bank operations.  The authors of the study conclude that “this lack of standardization and transparency may deter implementation of donor milk programs in the neonatal intensive care unit setting and hinder benchmarking, research and quality improvement initiatives.”

Dr. Elizabeth Brownell, Director of the Connecticut Human Milk Research Center, and her colleagues also found a consistent lack of data available to hospitals who offer a donor milk program.  There is no consistent definition, collection, or management of data among milk banks and a clear lack of transparency.  Again, this is not an issue of the milk’s safety, but rather one of failing to obtain critical information about how milk is categorized and distributed across the United States.

This becomes problematic when you consider that many hospitals offering a donor milk program don’t buy milk from the same milk bank, which could mean milk from Bank A may not be defined in the same way as milk from Bank B.  Of note, the study finds the definition of preterm milk varied between milk banks.

In 2010, the Food and Drug Administration recognized the need to develop a centralized registry to collect and disseminate standardized data.  This registry still does not exist.  Dr. Brownell suggests HMBANA- affiliate milk banks work with leadership and/or academic researchers to develop this registry as soon as possible.  Accountability by the FDA could help expedite this process.

Because donor milk use in NICU’s across the country is expanding rapidly, this study highlights the increasing importance of monitoring its infrastructure and reporting outcomes.  It also suggests standardizing data collection among all milk banks, storing it in a central repository, and distributing that information to stakeholders and hospitals.

The full article may be accessed by JHL subscribers HERE.

Buchanan, Monica (1)Monica Buchanan is the Media and Public Relations manager at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center. She joined the corporate communication department in August 2013. Monica transitioned into the PR world after spending nearly 10 years in local news. She was most recently an investigative reporter with WVIT- NBC CT in West Hartford, CT. There she covered major political stories involving corruption at Hartford city hall, covered Superstorm Sandy and the October snowstorm that devastated the Northeast. Monica began her news career as a general assignment reporter for WCTV in Tallahassee, FL in 2004 and has lived in Valdosta, GA and Sarasota, FL as well. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Florida with a degree in broadcast journalism and is a wife and mom to son Brandon.

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