Most people, like me, do not know that milk banks are facilities dedicated to the collection, screening, storage, and distribution of human breast milk.
I heard about these establishments when a playgroup mom was expressing her breast milk for donation. “For a friend?” I asked, but no. She was pumping breast milk to give away. I sort of said “oh…. how nice,” but in my mind I thought “oh… how weird.”
It’s not until I started reading books about breastfeeding that I came across the concept of milk banks again. Really, they are pretty amazing: most are non-profit and depend on volunteers and donations. Breast milk banks may be affiliated with a hospital or they may be independent.
Who Donates Breast Milk?
- Lactating women who have too much breast milk and do not want to throw away such a treasure.
- Women who wish to help other babies who do not have access to breast milk.
- Women who have weaned their own Baby but wish to give breast milk to other babies.
Because some diseases and medications can be transmitted through breast milk, lactating mothers are screened before they can donate breast milk. As well, donated breast milk is tested to ensure that it is not contaminated. Contaminated samples are discarded. Breast milk that passes inspection are pooled, pasteurized, dispensed into 4 ounce bottles and then frozen.
How Do I Donate Breast Milk?
Generally, a woman would express milk into sterile containers and freeze it in their freezer. When enough breast milk has been collected, it is packed with ice-packs (or dry ice) and sent to the breast milk collection agency. This is done at the expense of the milk bank, the donor does not need to pay for shipping. Please contact the nearest milk bank for detailed, up-to-date information.
Who Needs Breast Milk?
- For the most part, donated breast milk is given to premature babies who (for whatever reason) does not have access to breast milk. Often, this breast milk is given to preemies through the hospital in which the baby was born.
- Full-term babies may request breast milk if they have special dietary needs and the birth mother cannot supply breast milk.
- Breast milk is also given to researchers who wish to study the components and effects of breast milk.
How Do I Get Breast Milk?
There are over 20 milk banks in USA (and 3 in Canada ), so breast milk is not given to just anyone who asks. You need a prescription from a doctor in order for your request to be considered. Priority is given to premature babies and babies who cannot digest formula. In some cases, breast milk is given to patients with immunodeficiency disorders or to researchers who study breast milk.
Breast milk from milk banks cost about $3 to $5 per ounce. This may seem expensive, however, this barely covers the cost of shipping, testing, pasteurizing, and storing of the breast milk.
Some insurance companies may pay a portion of the fee for human breast milk. Call your insurance company to be sure. If you are in dire need but have no money, the fee may be waived. You can also check WIC to see if this government program is appropriate for you.
- La Leche League has a good article about milk banks
- Go to the Human Breast Milk Association of North America web site
- Go to the United Kingdom Association for Breast Milk web site
- If you need breast milk you may consider a wet nurse
- or, you can inquire at commercial, for-profit human-milk distributors such as ProLacta Biosciences
Photos on this page donated by HMBANA. HMBANA does not endorse or support products and/or companies and does not control content of websites that provide links to HMBANA. Viewers are advised to contact the closest human milk collection establishment for up-to-date information regarding donating, screening, and distribution of human breast milk.