Feb 06

FAQ’s About Breastmilk Donation

San Diego Mothers’ Milk Bank is a developing Milk Bank, opening 2019. Our goals are to help mothers breastfeed, to improve breastmilk donation and assure that all premature or ill babies in San Diego County and Imperial Valley have access to donor milk.

We have temporarily partnered with Mothers’ Milk Bank at Austin during our development phase. Mothers will work with MMBA to be approved for donation, milk will be collected locally at the San Diego Blood Bank, and shipped to Austin for processing until we are ready to open.

Call today to donate 512-494-0800 or toll-free 1-877-813.MILK (6455).

Who Uses Donor Milk?

Hospitals that care for premature and ill newborns and infants are the largest users of donor milk.

Research has shown that premature infants fed mother’s own milk or pasteurized donor milk have better outcomes than those fed cow’s milk formulas.

Children with digestive problems, growth problems, or immune defects may also benefit from the gift of mothers’ milk.

Families who are unable to breastfeed their babies due to adoption, surrogacy, maternal illness, or mothers who don’t make enough milk for their baby’s needs may also give their infants donor milk.

In the future we believe there will be other situations, perhaps even adults, who will benefit.

A recent small study showed the benefit of donor milk for children less than age 4 years old who had a bone marrow transplant. The children given donor milk had more beneficial bacteria in their intestines after the transplant, which is thought to lead to less life threatening blood stream infections in these patients.

 Who Donates Milk?

Mothers who donate are generally women who are pumping more milk than their infant can use.

A milk donor may be a mother who has had a tiny NICU baby and her milk production is way more than baby can use.

Working mothers too can end up with more milk than they need and are the majority of donors to milk banks.

Rarely, mothers end up with milk they can’t use because their baby develops an allergy to something in the milk.

Some mothers pump just to donate because they believe it is an important gift.

A milk donor may also be an ‘over producer’ who just make so much milk that their baby is overwhelmed with the milk flow and mother must pump to relieve the fast flow or overly full breasts.

Lastly, there are the sad cases where a baby has died and mother is left with stored milk, or decides to continue to pump to help deal with the loss of her infant by helping other babies.

For all these mothers this is an amazing gift they give.

How Do I Provide High Quality Milk To Donate?

Most donor milk is used to feed tiny sick babies so using good technique to have the best quality milk is important.

Milk must be frozen solid in a standard or deep freezer, and be less than 6 months old to donate.

Does Pasteurization Take Out All The Good Stuff In Breastmilk?

Pasteurization is very effective in removing cells, bacteria, and viruses.

Fortunately most of the immune factors are well preserved, with most levels over 50% compared with untreated milk.

Nutritional factors: fat, protein, milk sugars, vitamins and minerals are still in high levels in heat treated milk.

Factors such as oligosaccharides (small sugars that nurture probiotic bacteria in the baby’s belly) survive pasteurization very well.

So although the milk is altered, it retains many of its good properties.

For more information on breastmilk pasteurization, click here.

Why Not Just Obtain Milk From A Friend?

At a time when many women are sharing milk with friends and family it is good to know the facts.

Mothers’ milk is a live biologic fluid, like blood. It has millions of live cells, stem cells, bacteria and viruses.

These factors are for the protection of the infant most of the time, but there are some viruses that cause serious illness, like HIV, and can be transmitted in mothers’ milk.

This is why HIV+ mothers in North America do not breastfeed.

There are other viruses, like CMV (cytomegalovirus) that have lived in humans for millennia. Most of us first get exposed to CMV in our mother’s milk, but because mother passes baby antibodies to the CMV, baby becomes colonized and rarely gets sick.

Giving milk from one mother to another’s baby can complicate the normal process if the baby has no protective antibody.

Lastly, milk bought over the internet or from strangers may be contaminated, may contain other types of milk (like formula), or be shipped improperly, putting the baby at risk of infection.

Because of these concerns, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that mothers not share milk, and that families who wish to purchase breastmilk do so from a certified milk bank.

For more information on why the AAP recommends that mothers not share milk, click here.

Where Are Other Milk Banks Located In North America?

For more information on all the Human Milk Banking Association of North America locations, click here.

What Are Options To Donate For A Mother Who Does Not Meet Standard Donation Criteria?

Human milk is always needed for research studies, and the UC San Diego Mother to Baby Breastmilk BioRepository is a great avenue for donation.

They provide milk to scientists with approved research proposals, which allows milk to be put to good use and simplifies the process for both donation and research.

You will be asked to sign a short consent form to gift your milk to the BioRepository.

Tap here for more information about the Breastmilk BioRepository.


Lisa Stellwagen MD, FAAP  Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at UC San Diego Health