What Is A Breast Milk Bank? – The Donation Guide

In one of my previous posts I discussed the benefits of breast milk and why it is recommended over formula. Unfortunately, there are many mothers out there who are unable to provide enough milk for their newborns for one reason or another. Many of these mothers resort to formula, but some of them look for breast milk from other mothers who have either donated their milk or are selling it for profit. The safest way to obtain human breast milk if you are not able to provide it yourself, is through a non-profit breast milk bank.

So what is a breast milk bank? It is very similar to a blood bank. They are organizations who accept breast milk donations and distribute them to hospitals and babies who are in need of breast milk.

HMBANAWhat is a breast milk bank

HMBANA stands the Human Milk Banking Association of North America. All milk banks that are a part of this organization are non-profits. There are around 26 milk banks currently accredited through this organization and a few others that are in the process of becoming accredited.

Using a milk bank that is a part of HMBANA ensures you the most safety when it comes to providing donated breast milk to your baby. HMBANA services many Pediatric Hospitals and NICUs as well as homes with high risk infants in need of breast milk due to health conditions or failed attempts at taking multiple formulas.

HMBANA performs extensive testing on all breast milk and donors to ensure it is safe to use for all infants. After the testing process is completed, all the milk is pasteurized, and then distributed to where it is needed.

While this is a great organization for premature babies and high risk infants, it is difficult to obtain breast milk from them under regular circumstances. If your main purpose for looking into breast milk donations is because you are not producing enough milk, but otherwise have a healthy baby, it is not likely that you will be able to obtain milk from one of these milk banks. They will also attempt to provide breast milk to adopted babies whenever possible, however that is not their first priority.

For Profit Milk Banks

Aside from the milk banks that are a part of HMBANA, there are others that operate on a for profit basis. Some examples of these are Prolacta and Medolac and Mothers Milk Cooperative.

These organizations use the breast milk that is donated and then turns it into specialized formulas to benefit premature infants and other fragile babies. The science behind this is that these babies will benefit more from a formula that is made from human breast milk than from other sources like cows milk or soy products.

If you should chose to donate milk through Mothers Milk Coop, you will be compensated $1 per ounce of milk that is donated.

Donor Requirements

All breast milk banks require their own specific eligibility requirements and screening process. Here is an idea of some requirements and restrictions:

  • It is pretty standard to receive a blood test prior to being accepted as a donor. These tests allow the agencies to test for communicable diseases such as HIV and hepatitis.
  • Some banks require written statements from your doctor that confirms that you and your baby are healthy and that your baby is gaining weight appropriately.
  • There are many prescription drugs that will disqualify you as a donor, including antidepressants, and obviously any illegal drug use will disqualify you as well.
  • The use of nicotine will disqualify you as a donor at most breast milk banks.
  • Alcohol use is allowed at most banks in moderation. They may ask you to wait to pump for donation for 12-24 hours after consuming alcohol. Some banks allow up to 2 standard size alcoholic beverages per day.
  • Moderate caffeine use is also tolerated at most banks.
  • Some breast milk banks have started using DNA testing to make sure the donations match the donor- this can prevent fraud and tampering with the milk.

Should you get paid for your breast milk donations?

There is a big controversy over payments when it comes to breast milk donations. Obviously the non-profit organizations do not pay their donors for the breast milk, but some for profit donations do not pay either.

After spending countless hours putting in the work to pump all that milk, you would think you should get paid for your efforts right?

The thought process behind not paying donors is that mothers that donate their milk in good faith are less likely to alter their milk. Mothers who are getting paid per ounce of breast milk may be more inclined to add cow milk, water, or alter it in other ways in order to get more money for their donations. This will affect the safety and quality of the milk.

Mother to Mother Donations

After completing the screening and qualification process, it is pretty simple to donate your breast milk to a bank. It is still difficult to obtain the milk from a bank though unless your baby meets certain health qualifications. Even in those circumstances it may be hard to obtain the breast milk, because they generally give preference to the babies that are the highest risk first.

If your baby is not high risk, and does not qualify for obtaining breast milk through a bank, you may look at mother to mother donations. This can be done from someone you know that is willing to donate directly to you. There are also social media groups set up for milk sharing purposes.

There are more risks involved in mother to mother donations, since the milk is not going through a bank, it will not be screened properly for diseases and medications that may affect your baby. If you are paying someone directly for their breast milk, they may alter the milk in order to get more money.

In summary

Donating breast milk can be a great service to mothers and babies in need, just be aware of the different types of breast milk banks and donations that are available.

If you are searching for breast milk, just know it may be difficult to obtain directly through a breast milk bank. If you are looking into a mother to mother type of donation, be very careful and make sure you are dealing with someone that you trust.





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