TRENTON — A measure now approved by both houses of the Legislature would establish standards for operations involved in the collection and distribution of human breast milk.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Dozens of human milk banks exist throughout the United States. There are zero in New Jersey.

The demand for donor milk in hospitals is on the rise, however, according to Naomi Bar-Yam, president of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America. So the Garden State may be getting a head start on setting ground rules in case a hospital or organization wishes to get a bank running within the state's borders.

The antibodies found in human breast milk can assist premature babies in fighting infections. An uptick in demand could be linked to increased recognition of breast milk's short-term and long-term health benefits, Bar-Yam said.

"Milk going to outpatient families in need is also growing," Bar-Yam added.

The legislation, sponsored by Pamela Lampitt in the Assembly and Loretta Weinberg in the Senate, defines a human milk bank as "an organized service that provides for the selection of a donor of human breast milk, the collection, processing, storage, and marketing of human breast milk, and the distribution of donated human breast milk" to hospitals or directly to a parent with a prescription.

Mary Lou Moramarco, an international board certified lactation consultant based in Holmdel, said New Jersey hospitals can and do access the supplies of milk banks in neighboring states such as New York and Pennsylvania.

"If it was here in New Jersey it, of course, would be more convenient for the hospitals in New Jersey," Moramarco said, noting banks in other states in the event of a supply shortage would make sure to service their hospitals and residents first before shipping goods to the Garden State.

If the bill were to become law, no human milk bank could operate without registering with and being accredited by the New Jersey Department of Health. The bank would be required to undergo a yearly assessment by the health department and pay an annual registration fee. In addition, the health department would need to conduct an on-site facility inspection of any human milk bank at least once every five years.

"Families have been sharing breast milk for thousands of years unofficially, and this is really an official way of doing that," Moramarco said.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.