Revisited: Expectations for Human Milk in Healthcare

Evi Dewhurst / December 2015


2015 sure has flown by! Over a year ago, I wrote the following blog post “Expectations for Human Milk in Healthcare” to address the growing awareness and support human milk has received in the healthcare setting. Looking back, I see that the trend has continued: More Baby Friendly designations have been offered; clinicians such as Jae Kim, MD, PhD, have assembled teams dedicated to human milk success in the NICU; and more research has been conducted to demonstrate its positive health impacts as well as the economic impacts to society and to healthcare.

In light of these continued advances, I feel that revisiting this particular blog is valuable for the clinical audience to plan and prepare for 2016. What are the expectations for human milk in your NICU or Labor & Delivery, and how will your efforts lead to success over the next 12 months? Read on for tips to help you progress your facility’s human milk initiatives.

Human milk is the best source of nutrition for infants, known to offer valuable benefits which promote gut maturity, vital organ function and much more. In fact, its benefits far exceed infancy and childhood, and actually impact lifelong health. This is true whether an infant is born prematurely or full term.

Recent studies demonstrate that a minimum of $3.6 billion would be saved in healthcare and community costs if breastfeeding or expression of human milk was increased from 64 to 75 percent.1

Breast milk is especially necessary in the neonatal intensive care unit, where at-risk infants struggle daily with a myriad of health issues. It is here that human milk has the most immediate and significant impact, not only to fragile neonatal health and growth, but also to hospital financial impact and families served. NICU clinicians are quite familiar with the human milk statistic of reducing necrotizing enterocolitis by up to 86%, reducing re-admission by up to 60% and a lessened sepsis risk.1 For the very low birth weight infant (VLBW) population, increasing volumes of human milk during the first twenty-eight days can dramatically decrease the risk of sepsis, leading to an increased hospital savings of $20,000 to $30,000 per VLBW infant.2  Providing human milk to infants in the NICU also has a positive economic impact. These economic savings include direct costs such as formula and physician, clinic, hospital, laboratory and procedural fees. In addition, the savings would include the indirect costs of time and wages lost by parents attending to a sick child.

As healthcare continues to advance, the reality of human milk potential and benefits has become an expanded highlight impacting many professionals across the healthcare spectrum. This includes facets of clinicians, educators and consultants, as well as supply chain and value analysis teams who must evaluate systems for efficiency, benefits and economic outcomes. While awareness of human milk health impact increases, another broad message of support and action comes from government and insurance carriers. The Affordable Care Act guarantees pregnant women a breast pump option, a clear move in support of utilizing breast milk to reduce future healthcare impact and improve patient health. This encourages more women to provide valuable human milk nutrition to their infants. Additional expansion and direction is sure to come, inspiring clinicians and supply chain teams to fully utilize the health benefits of breast milk for all infants in their healthcare systems. The question is, will your facility be prepared to take action?

Assess Your Current State

Now is the time to evaluate internal clinical human milk collection and delivery systems for versatility, efficiency and productivity. A thorough inventory of all products will deliver insight into a facility’s capability to take on the ever-evolving breast milk initiatives currently being encouraged throughout the healthcare industry. Implementing a full solution set now is key. Those with a well-defined process, staff education and products in place to support the human milk continuum for best patient outcomes will benefit from their preparation efforts now and into the future.

Assess your current state with these questions:

Is our facility fully committed to human milk delivery across all relevant departments such as Labor and Delivery, NICU and Purchasing? If not, what steps are necessary to achieve it?

Does our Lactation team have enough visibility and accessibility to mothers?

Are our current products meeting needs across collection, storage and delivery of human milk?

Where are the weak links in our human milk delivery system, and what can we do about it in the short term and long term?

How efficient is our human milk system? Does it save time, provide the best outcomes and improve patient experience?

Having these questions answered will pave the way to meeting human milk expectations in healthcare. By first assessing your capabilities and where your facility stands, you can better make decisions for going forward. There is no doubt about the benefit of human milk as preventative care and its impact on overall health for infants. Be a champion for human milk in healthcare for your own internal teams. Sometimes it only takes one!


Learn more about Medela’s healthcare professional human milk collection,
storage and delivery system options here.



1. *Schanler, R.J.,;”Feeding Strategies for Premature Infants:  Beneficial Outcomes of Feeding Fortified Human Milk Versus Preterm Formula.”  Pediatrics. Vol. 103, No.6 June 1999.

2. Patel AL, Johnson TJ, Engstrom JL, et al. Impact of early human milk on sepsis and health-care costs in very low birth weight infants. J Perinatol. Jan 31 2013.