Donating Breast Milk

Giving the gift of breast milk to families who need it most

Babies in the NICU or those with medical conditions are very much in need of the nutrients found in their mother’s breast milk. However, due to medications, infections, difficulties with pumping, the effects of a premature or traumatic delivery, the demands associated with having twins or triplets, or the inability to visit the hospital or bring milk regularly, it’s not always easy for their moms to produce enough. Donating breast milk is an easy and safe way to provide the precious nutrients of breast milk to these babies, so If you have milk you’d like to donate but aren’t sure where to start, read on to learn more about the application and donation process.

Understanding the milk donation process

The application process

The qualifications for becoming a milk donor may vary slightly depending on what milk bank you use. Typically, you must be a healthy individual who does not use illegal drugs, tobacco products or most prescription medications. Some banks require you to be less than 12 months postpartum, while others may set the limit at 24 months. As part of the donor screening, you’ll have to complete a questionnaire about yourself, your health and medical history, your baby’s health, and other important background information. Once that portion is approved, you’ll complete a blood test to screen for diseases like HIV and Hepatitis B and C. The cost for the test is covered by the milk bank, and it is likely that your doctor and your child’s pediatrician will have to sign paperwork to confirm the health information you provided and acknowledge your desire to donate.

The donation process

U.S. milk banks adhere to the Human Milk Banking Association of North America’s (HMBANA) guidelines, but each milk bank may have its own protocols for collection, cleaning, storage, and labeling. Also note that if the milk had already been pumped prior to being approved as a donor, the banks may still be able to accept it on a case-by-case basis. Most banks have guidelines regarding how much alcohol and caffeine you can consume—if any—within a certain period of time prior to pumping. For example, you may not be able to donate milk pumped within 12 hours of drinking a glass of wine. They also typically have a minimum amount you can donate, such as 100 ounces.

Once you have collected milk for donation, you can bring it to a donation depot (many banks have multiple locations for their donors’ convenience). While it’s easiest to donate locally, there are a small number of banks that accept milk from out-of-state and cover shipping costs. Donors are not paid for their milk, as it’s meant to be an altruistic gesture, not for personal gain.

After the bank receives the milk, it is pasteurized to ensure safety, and then distributed to participating hospitals that are in need. The non-profit banks may charge the recipients a processing fee, but they do not sell the milk itself. If the families in need are not able to cover the processing fee, many banks have the ability to waive it.

Getting started

To find a milk bank in your area, check out the HMBCNA site, then get in touch with the bank closest to you. The staff at your respective location will guide you through the process via phone or email.

Think about all the health benefits of breast milk—the immunity boost, the healing properties, the perfect combination of nutrients. NICU stays are stressful, costly, and often last for weeks. Donated breast milk helps these babies and their families significantly, so if you’re able, consider being a part of the donation process. It’s truly a gift for the families you will help.