By Lindsay Groff, MBA, Executive Director, Human Milk Banking Association of North America
The Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) is a network of 27 nonprofit milk banks throughout the United States and Canada. Our milk banks screen milk donors and provide pasteurized donor human milk to babies in need.
HMBANA believes in a world where all infants have access to human milk through support of breastfeeding and use of pasteurized donor human milk. Here are some answers to frequently asked questions about donor milk and the process of donating.
Why not give formula to babies in the NICU? What makes donated breast milk so important?
Breast milk is important for the optimal growth and development of all babies, but especially important for babies born prematurely or who are otherwise medically fragile. When a baby is pre-term, his or her stomach and intestines are smaller and less mature than that of a full-term baby. Babies fed human milk tolerate feedings better, because human milk is easy to digest.
Research shows that premature babies, especially those born earlier than 30 weeks, fed breast milk have better outcomes. There is a reduced risk of infection and fewer incidents of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), the second most common cause of death for premature infants.
What factors can prevent mothers of premature babies from producing breast milk?
While some moms have no problem breastfeeding or pumping breast milk, others struggle. Moms of preemies don’t always produce breast milk right away. Having a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) can be very stressful, and that stress may hinder milk production. Also, some moms have their own health problems that prevent or delay breastfeeding.
What is the process of ensuring that donor milk is safe for babies?
- Donors are screened through: a phone or in-person interview, paper questionnaire, and blood testing (costs covered by the milk bank).
- The breast milk is then pasteurized, using Holder pasteurization, heated to 62.5 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes. This is hot enough to kill bacteria and viruses, while maintaining the protective, nutritional, and growth factors in human milk.
- A bacterial culture is completed to ensure nothing harmful survived the pasteurization process. If there are any pathogens in the milk, it is discarded or used for research.
- The milk is frozen and stored at -20 degrees Celsius.
- Any donor milk distributed by the milk bank can be traced back to the donor, if necessary.
- There have been no documented cases of a baby being harmed by donor milk from a HMBANA milk bank.
Does the pasteurization process kill nutrients?
Pasteurization affects some of the immunological properties of donor milk, but the most helpful properties stay intact. The macronutrients (fats, carbs, proteins) are stable and the micronutrients (vitamins, minerals, amino acids) also remain stable, with a few exceptions.
How can women become donors?
Women should contact the milk bank geographically closest to them. All 27 nonprofit milk bank locations in the United States and Canada can be found on our website.
Does it cost money to donate?
There is no cost to the donor. The milk bank pays all the expenses for screening and safety.
What might prevent women from being milk donors?
You may not donate if you:
- Have or are at risk for HIV or have a partner who has or is at risk.
- Smoke or use illegal drugs.
- Take anything to enhance milk production, including fenugreek.
- Lived in the UK for three months or more from 1980 - 1996 or have spent more than five years in Europe.
- Regularly use certain medications.*
*Each milk bank has its own medications lists and other details regarding donor eligibility, which you can review that either on their website or by phone.
Can bereaved mothers donate?
Yes! The loss of a child is a truly devastating experience. Some mothers do find comfort in donating their breast milk as a living legacy to their baby. Many of HMBANA's milk banks offer ways to honor babies.
Where to get more information about donor milk bank milk banking?