BU News Service
BOSTON — Mothers unable to provide milk to their premature newborns may be able to do so if a bill is passed that would make insurance providers cover the cost of more durable breast pumps.
Rep. Dan Carey, D-Easthampton, said he has been listening to nurses in health centers located throughout western Massachusetts to develop legislation that would allow low-income mothers rent such hospital grade pumps to use at home.
“Only mothers who can afford the hospital grade pumps can use those and have to pay out of pocket for them,” Carey said, noting the situation is currently inequitable.
Nurse Jennifer Marion, who works in the neonatal department at Baystate Children’s Hospital, testified at the bill’s first public hearing this week. She said that mothers of premature babies, or preemies, are not able to produce an adequate milk supply without the hospital breast pump.
Moms who have been separated from premature babies receiving intensive care struggle to produce their own milk, Marion said in her testimony. These mothers are solely dependent on the pump to maintain a milk supply.
“It’s really sad – some moms can’t make enough milk,” Marion, 45, said in an interview. “There’s no other medical reason why they shouldn’t be making milk except this missing factor that they really did not have the optimal pump.”
The optimal pump Marion referred to costs an additional $70 to rent per month. Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies provide a personal pump for mothers to take home after delivery.
Because this seems like an additional cost, especially for low-income mothers, they often do not pay the rental fee for the hospital pump, Marion said.
“The personal pumps, for home use, are not able to maintain a milk supply for a long period of time,” she said.
The personal pumps, she said, are geared towards mothers of healthy babies – not for premature babies who have to stay in the hospital for several months in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Many premature babies are at risk for certain diseases including life-threatening respiratory conditions, gastrointestinal problems and even brain damage, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“Mom’s human milk is the best form of nutrition – it’s actually like a medicine for the baby,” Marion said. Babies who feed on mother’s milk, she said, also face better short-term and long-term outcomes in life because of the special nutrients in it.
Additionally, mothers often deliver early because they are suffering through conditions like diabetes and obesity.
“They have a lot of strikes against them to be able to make breast milk and maintain a supply,” Marion said.
At Baystate Children’s Hospital, mothers can use the Medela Symphony breast pump provided by the hospital, which has a strong motor life and doesn’t lose suction. These pumps have two phases that mimic how babies nurse before receiving milk and when they are receiving it.
“It tricks the body into acting like a baby would act and really brings in that milk supply,” Marion said.
An equitable solution
Kim Congden, a lactation consultant in the neonatology department of Baystate, said she witnesses instances daily in which mothers have to stick with the pump their insurance provides.
Congden said the situation is definitely inequitable. If mothers of preemies can’t rent the hospital pump, there aren’t many things the nurses can do.
“It’s not fair that just because a mother has a different kind of insurance, like a state insurance and has less money, her baby should get less breast milk since she’s getting an inferior pump,” Congden said.
Marion, who has worked in the NICU for seven years, said she recalls a time when a fellow nurse paid for a rental pump for a patient who was unable to afford one.
Sen. Jim Welch, D-West Springfield, Senate chairman of the Legislature’s Committee on Financial Services which held the hearing, said he thinks the bill is a step in the right direction to “provide parity amongst all women and all mothers.”
“I think every mother should have the same access to be able to provide those type of nutrients to their infant and to their baby,” Welch said.
He emphasized the importance of breast milk providing key nutrients to newborns, which can be accomplished by using the hospital breast pumps.
“Hospital ones are far more effective, far easier to use and less frustrating for the mother,” Welch said.
Hopes for the bill
Carey said he hopes the bill will help mothers who otherwise could not afford the rental fee to have access to the proper equipment.
“I’m hoping that mothers and newborns that are in this situation will get the equipment that they need and is most appropriate to help the newborn to get the proper milk supply.”
He also said he thinks the bill will be moved favorably out of committee, while Welch said he is certain that this legislation will make the short-list.
Congden, a nurse at Baystate for more than 30 years, said she hopes that the passage of this bill will provide all mothers of premature children the chance to supply a sufficient amount of milk.
“I think it’s really important to support the mother’s goals to provide breast milk for their baby,” Congden said. “If we can possibly do that for them, that would be a blessing I’d have to say.”
This article was originally published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette.