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Milk Banks: What You Need to Know

You’ve heard of Human Milk Banks, but what are they? Who benefits from them? And who can donate?

What They Are

La Leche League International (LLLI) defines milk banks as, “the collection, screening, processing, and distribution of human milk from volunteer breastfeeding mothers.”

The idea is not a new one. Throughout history women have come to the aid of other mothers in the form of wet-nursing. But as this practice declined in the early 1900s the need for a more controlled donor process arose.

The first bank opened in Boston in 1911 and unwed mothers were screened for illness and paid for their surplus milk to help sick infants. Today, milk banks exist across the country and donor milk is dispensed by prescription.

Who Receives the Milk

When an infant is unable to get milk from their mother, donor milk is the next best option in many cases.  Breast milk is species-specific and therefore easier to digest. It helps provide immunity and avoid complications seen from using breast milk substitutes.

According to LLLI donor milk is prescribed for a myriad of reasons. For example if an infant is failing to thrive because of food intolerance, human milk is literally a life-saver. Also for infants whose organ and tissue systems need more time to mature or heal, human milk is much easier for them to process. Breast is milk ready-made for human babies. The milk also provides additional growth support for helping damaged tissues heal. Plus it helps prevent certain conditions that result from a premature birth.

Who Can Donate

Donors are vital volunteers for this program. Mothers can choose to pump and donate excess on a regular basis or they can donate their surplus frozen supply if collected appropriately. Each milk bank has specific protocol for collecting and storing your milk. Before a milk bank will accept donor milk,  potential donors undergo a careful screening process that includes a detailed family history along with blood work. All testing is done at the milk bank’s expense. Mothers are required to repeat testing with each pregnancy in order to donate.

The Risks of Informal Sharing

Many informal sharing programs exist. Though the sentiment is genuine and maybe in extreme circumstances beneficial, there are many risks. In informal sharing no screening process exists. Also, milk banks pasteurize all donated milk as well as check the supply for bacteria content. These precautions are absolutely necessary and need to be respected for the health of the receiving infant.  

If you are interested in becoming a donor you can find a milk bank near you HERE

La Leche League International Source:
Preemie Photo Credit:

Bonnie Jean Feldkamp is a writer and mother of two. If you liked this posting please follow her on Twitter @writerbonnie or like her on Facebook at

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