Owen’s Law Paves Way for Expanded Access to Pasteurized Donor Human Milk in Pennsylvania

Pasteurized Donor Human MilkCredit: Commonwealth Media Services

HARRISBURG, PA — A new law in Pennsylvania is set to broaden access to pasteurized donor human milk, a crucial resource for medically vulnerable infants. Named ‘Owen’s Law,’ Act 32 of 2023 was recently enacted by Governor Josh Shapiro and stands to significantly impact infant health across the state.

The legislation expands the number of health conditions eligible for Medicaid-covered donor human milk. By doing so, it provides an essential supplement to a mother’s milk, offering more options to support healthy growth for infants.

“Pasteurized donor human milk can be lifesaving, and the Shapiro-Davis Administration wants to make it easier for infants who need it to have access,” said Acting Secretary of Health Dr. Debra Bogen during a news conference at the Mid-Atlantic Mother’s Milk Bank in Pittsburgh.

Donor human milk is a proven nutritional medicine critical to the health of medically fragile infants. Mothers with infants in neonatal intensive care units often find it challenging to produce enough breast milk to meet their infants’ needs, despite strong effort and adequate lactation support.

The law also mandates the Department of Health (DOH), in collaboration with the Department of Human Services (DHS), to launch a public information campaign on the availability of pasteurized human donor milk. Additionally, the DHS is tasked with creating and updating guidance about the usage of donor milk.

This legislation has profound implications for addressing health disparities, particularly among Black mothers and babies who often face worse health outcomes due to systemic inequities.

“The injustices inflicted on Black mothers and families echo through the present and are a foundation of today’s inequities,” said Pennsylvania Second Lady Blayre Holmes Davis. “However, we have the opportunity to rectify those injustices and end the inequities.”

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Breastfeeding, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has numerous health benefits for babies. These include a boosted immune system, fewer ear, respiratory, and gastrointestinal infections, reduced risk of developing diabetes, obesity, asthma, and some cancers, and decreased risk for Sudden Unexplained Infant Death Syndrome (SUIDS).

The Health Department’s 2023-2028 State Health Improvement Plan (SHIP) identifies breastfeeding as an indicator of improving maternal and infant health outcomes.

As Pennsylvania embarks on this groundbreaking initiative, it will be crucial to monitor its impact, particularly on disadvantaged communities. By improving access to pasteurized donor human milk, Owen’s Law could play a crucial role in reducing infant mortality and enhancing overall infant health across the state.

More information about mother’s milk banks can be found on the Department of Health’s website.

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