For some babies, getting breastmilk from their mothers isn’t possible. A mom could have a medical condition or is undergoing treatment that doesn’t let her nurse her baby. A baby could be a preemie and mom’s milk hasn’t come in yet or the infant could be adopted. Many of these babies need breastmilk in order for them to thrive. If you’re a mom whose freezer is overrun with frozen breastmilk, or you just have an oversupply of milk, consider donating your breastmilk to a milk bank to help infants in need. The Human Milk Banking Association of America (HMBANA) is a non-profit organization that provides human breastmilk to infants who need it. There are locations across the country where human breastmilk can be donated. The milk is pasteurized, stored, and shipped frozen overnight to hospitals and individuals at home.
Who needs the breastmilk? Some mothers have a chronic illness, surgery, or are taking medications that prevent them from giving breastmilk to their babies. Some babies fail to thrive on formula and face life-threatening diseases or conditions where they need breastmilk to survive. A mom may have a preemie and isn’t able to provide milk yet for her baby. Families who receive donated breastmilk are very thankful that it’s available for their little one.
What are the requirements to donate? Different milk banks have slightly different requirements, but generally moms need to be
In good general health
Willing to take a free blood test
Donate a minimum number of ounces of breastmilk (requirements differ across milk banks)
Nursing an infant under the age of 1 or 2 (requirements differ across milk banks)
Moms also need to transport the milk to a drop-off site or ship the milk to a milk bank. Shipping is paid for by the milk bank.
There are a number of exclusions to watch out for that make some mothers ineligible to donate milk. These may include but are not limited to:
A positive blood test result for HIV, HTLV, hepatitis B, C, or syphilis
You or your partner is at risk for HIV
Illegal drug use
Using tobacco products including smoking
Taking medication and herbal supplements, with some exceptions
There are additional restrictions so contact the milk bank you want to donate to for their specific requirements.
What happens to the milk at a milk bank? The milk is processed and pasteurized as described below:
At a milk bank, the milk is transferred from its storage container to glass flasks.
A pool of milk which contains milk from 3 to 5 donor mothers is mixed to evenly distribute the milk components.
Bottles of four or eight ounces are filled with milk before pasteurization.
The milk is pasteurized using the Holder Method. This eliminates bacteria and retains the beneficial components of the milk.
During the pasteurization process, samples of the milk are taken to check for bacterial growth and contaminated milk is discarded.
After pasteurization, the milk is frozen and stored. It is tested to ensure there is no bacterial growth or contamination. Once it has passed, it can be shipped to hospitals or individuals who are in need of breastmilk.
How do I get started? You can start the process of donating breastmilk by contacting a milk bank near you. Here is a list of Mother’s Milk Bank locations. Mother’s Milk Bank in San Jose, CA is the only non-profit milk bank in the state of California. Along with Northwest Mother’s Milk Bank in Portland, OR, they are the two HMBANA milk banks on the west coast. There are more facilities in the west, midwest, and east coast. When you contact the milk bank, they will take you through a screening process, which includes an interview, questionnaire, and a blood test that is free to you.
How do I give the milk? If you live nearby, you can drop off the milk at the milk bank facility. If you live far away, the milk bank can send you a shipping cooler and FedEx mailing label to ship your milk to the milk bank at no charge.
I don’t have milk to donate, but how can I help? Milk banks need to have an emergency fund to ship milk to families who are in dire need of breastmilk. They also need equipment to process, store, and ship breastmilk. The Mother’s Milk Bank in San Jose provides donated breastmilk to 114 hospitals and outpatient families. If you don’t have breastmilk to give, you can still help by donating money to provide the funds to process and ship breastmilk from donors to hospitals and outpatient families.
Breastmilk donation is needed to keep babies at risk healthy and help them thrive. For some infants, it is a medical need to help ensure that they survive. Consider becoming a donor to the milk bank nearest you, whether it is donating breastmilk or funds! Healthy Horizons fully supports moms who would like to donate to the milk bank and can help moms collect donor milk.