Donating breast milk

Women who have decided to breastfeed will know breastmilk is the ideal food for babies. It is especially important for babies who are sick or premature, and can make all the difference to their health.

Giving these babies breastmilk increases their chances of survival and helps their long-term development. Sometimes their mothers cannot feed them because they are sick or under too much stress to produce enough milk.

In the absence of the infant's own mother's milk, donor milk offers the benefits of human milk for the infant including:
• Optimal nutrition
• Easy digestibility
• Immunological protection against many organisms and diseases
• Infection-fighting components such as immunoglobulins

Human milk also contains growth factors that can:
• Protect immature tissue
• Promote maturation, particularly in the gastrointestinal tract
• Promote healing of tissue damaged by infection

Common reasons for prescribing donor milk:
• Prematurity
• Allergies
• Feeding/formula intolerance
• Immunologic deficiencies
• Post operative nutrition
• Treatment of some infectious diseases
• Treatment of inborn errors of metabolism

Can any breastfeeding mother be a milk donor?
Milk banks welcome enquiries from any woman who already has stored milk or who wishes to become a regular donor and is breastfeeding or planning to breastfeed.

However, although a mother's milk is ideal for her own baby, extra care needs to be taken with tiny or sick babies. Milk banks cannot accept milk from women who smoke or use illegal drugs and all potential donors have to be tested for infections that may be passed on through the milk.

How much milk do milk banks expect from donors?
Donors are asked to express their milk. The amount of milk collected from each donor varies from woman to woman and from week to week. Most useful is a regular supply of small amounts although some milk banks also take larger one-off donations. Every drop of milk is valuable and small or sick babies benefit from even the smallest quantities of breastmilk. Premature babies will often start with less than 20mls per day. One ounce of milk will feed a tiny premature baby for 1 ½ days.

The law of supply and demand ensures that a donor's own baby will not go short of milk and some mothers even find that expressing regularly means they end up with a better supply of milk for their own babies.

Donor health and lifestyle
If you are interested in becoming a donor, please contact your local milk bank. Staff there will be happy to answer any questions you may have. The milk bank will need to know that you are in generally good health and that your baby is under 6 months of age when you start donating. You may continue to donate when your baby is older than this.

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Some of the questions that you may be asked are:
• Do you have any medical condition?
• Do you routinely take any medicines including herbal remedies?
Answering yes to these questions does not mean that you cannot be a donor, but the milk bank staff may want to talk further to you.
• Do you smoke or use illegal drugs?
• Do you routinely drink more than 2 units of alcohol per day or 7 cups of caffeinated coffee or other caffeine-containing drinks per day?
• Have you tested positive for HIV 1 or 2, Hepatitis B or C, HTLV l or ll or syphilis?*

The milk bank will arrange for a sample of blood to be taken and tested for infections, which might be passed on through your milk.
*If you answer yes to any of these questions the milk bank will not be able to accept your milk.

This information has been supplied by Mothers Milk Bank. Mothers Milk Bank Pty Ltd is a charity set up by Marea Ryan, in order to provide pasteurised donor mothers' milk to infants where mother's own milk human is not available. You can download more information about donating breast milk from the Mothers Milk Bank.

Discuss the donation of breastmilk with Essential Baby Mums.