What is Donor Milk?
It is breast milk donated by other healthy moms to a human milk bank.
The milk bank makes sure it is safe, and the milk is pasteurized. It is ordered by your baby’s doctor.
Why Use Donor Milk?
Sometimes we do not have or cannot use mom’s own breast milk. For infants staying with mom we can sometimes use donor milk as an additional feeding until mom’s own breast milk is readily available.
Some babies (especially preemies) are at risk for problems when they are fed with formula (such as infection in the intestines). Using donor breast milk may help protect them from these problems.
Is Donor Milk Different From a Mom’s Own Breast Milk?
Donor milk is very different from mom’s own milk but it provides a safe form of nutrition when mom’s milk is not available or cannot be used.
Donor milk has been heated to kill things that could make your baby sick.
Most donor milk comes from moms who delivered term babies.
Donor milk is safer than formula, but is not as good as mom’s own milk because some of the parts of the milk that protect the infant from infection are decreased or absent in donor milk.
Which Babies Get Donor Milk?
- Babies delivered before 34 weeks of pregnancy.
- Babies in the NICU whose moms are going to provide breast milk, but their milk has not come in yet.
- Babies who have had an infection or other serious problems in the intestine.
- Babies whose mom intends to exclusively breastfeed but are not yet producing large enough amounts of milk. Your baby’s doctor will determine if they qualify.
- The parent or legal guardian gives the doctors permission to order it for their baby.
Some reasons your baby might need donor milk:
- Low blood sugar
- Small size for age
- Too much weight loss
- Premature baby
- Jaundice (needing phototherapy/lights)
The doctor will discuss with you any other concerns or reasons. We recommend that you work with a lactation consultant and your nurse on good latching and breastfeeding techniques BEFORE you supplement with donor milk (or formula).
How Is My Baby Going to Eat the Donor Milk?
Some breastfeeding mothers prefer not to use a bottle. Term or late preterm infants may supplement using one of the following options. Parents of NICU babies should consult with their doctor. Some ways to give donor milk to your baby include:
- You can use a feeding tube alongside your breast. This way, your baby can nurse at the breast and will be able to get some additional nutrition through the tube (usually connected to a syringe with the feeding). This is ideal because it reinforces breastfeeding and nursing behavior and helps mom’s milk supply.
- You can let your baby lick the milk from a small plastic spoon or from a soft feeding cup.
- You can place drops of the milk in your baby’s mouth while they suck on your finger (also mimics breastfeeding).
- You can choose to use a bottle for these small feedings after a breastfeed.
When is Donor Milk Stopped?
Babies in the NICU whose mom does NOT intend to breastfeed will be transitioned to formula before they leave the hospital. The timing for this transition depends on the baby’s weight and adjusted age.
If you want to use donor milk at home, you will have to order and pay for it. Insurance in Arkansas does not cover it after the baby leaves the hospital. If there is milk remaining that you used during your stay in the hospital, sometimes you can take that home with you. If your child has special
needs you may try to contact a human milk bank to see if they have other resources.
What Does a Donor Milk Bank Do?
- Makes sure donors are healthy
- Heats milk to kill bacteria and viruses
- Throws away any milk that is not safe
- Makes sure the milk meets a baby’s needs
- Collects donated milk
- Tests milk to make sure milk is safe
- Freezes and stores milk
- Ships frozen milk to users
Who Can Be a Milk Donor?
Healthy breastfeeding moms donate their extra milk. These moms are checked (screened) to be sure their milk is safe; moms must pass a phone interview and a blood test (paid for by the donor milk bank).
Moms cannot donate their milk if they:
- Take certain medications or herbs
- Drink more than 2 ounces of alcohol every day
- Smoke or use tobacco products
- Use illegal drugs
- Have been in the United Kingdom for more than 3 months
- Have been in Europe for more than 5 years (since 1980)
- Were born in or have traveled to the following countries:
- Cameroon, Central Africa Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Chad, Niger, Congo, or Nigeria.
- Have any of these infections or conditions:
- Hepatitis B or C
- A sexual partner at risk for HIV
- Organ/tissue transplant
- blood transfusion in the past 12 months.
Please contact your baby’s doctor or your lactation consultant if you have any other questions about donor milk. If you are considering donating milk, you MUST make sure that you have a good enough supply for your baby first! Please talk to a lactation consultant before donating.