How To Donate Your Breast Milk

Pumping breast

After your baby is born, you may find that you have an excess of breast milk and dumping your precious liquid gold down the drain makes you feel sick to your stomach. Or perhaps you have a calling to help someone in need. Whatever your reason for donating your breast milk, it is a very personal decision and one that should be carefully researched. There are several ways to donate your breast milk.

  1. Find a milk bank near you. Currently, there are eleven milk banks in North America that are certified by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA). These milk banks are non-profit banks that offer breast milk to sick and premature infants, adopted infants, and/or infants whose mother cannot produce enough milk but wants to give her baby the best start in life. Sick and premature infants are the priority so adoptive parents and the like are only offered milk when supply is available. Mothers who wish to donate through their local bank do not receive compensation; however, they may receive a hospital grade pump during their donation time and will receive the supplies for donating their milk, such as bottles and labels. The milk is offered at around $3.50/oz but that only covers the cost of screening donors, testing, and processing the milk. The milk might also be covered by insurance but these non-profit banks certified by HMBANA will not turn away a baby in need simply because her parents cannot afford the cost of the milk. Below lists the requirements for becoming a donor.

    • Donors and their babies must be in general good health.

    • Donors cannot be taking any medications or herbal supplements (progestin-only birth control, prenatal vitamins, insulin and thyroid medication are the only exceptions).

    • Donors undergo a thorough medical history and blood tests that are more in-depth than the medical history and tests for donating blood.

    • Donors must also keep at least 100 oz of milk on hand for their own babies. Donors must be willing to donate at least 100 oz of milk (some banks request a higher amount).

    • Donors must adhere to strict storage and sterilization policies.

    • Donors must not have had a positive blood test result for HIV, HTLV, hepatitis B or C, or syphilis.

    • Donors and their sexual partners cannot be at risk for HIV.

    • Donors must not use illegal drugs.

    • Donors must not smoke or use tobacco products.

    • Donors cannot have had an organ or tissue transplant or a blood transfusion in the last 12 months.

    • Donors must not consume more than two ounces or more of alcohol per day (any milk containing alcohol will be destroyed).

    • Donors must not have been in the United Kingdom for more than 3 months or in Europe for more than 5 years since 1980. Donors must not have been born in or have traveled to Cameroon, Central Africa Republic, Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Niger or Nigeria.

    Even if you don’t live near a milk bank, it might still be possible to donate to one. Contact some of the milk banks nearest you and ask if you can ship your milk to them. Often, they will provide the supplies and shipping free of cost, as long as you qualify as a donor.

  2. Search the Internet as a private donor. There are some websites out there where you can become a private donor. You need to be very careful when posting that you have milk you would like to donate. There are men and women out there with fetishes and you could be at risk, so be certain to research your recipient and have the appropriate forms completed (possibly by a lawyer for liability) and signed by both parties before donating your milk. It is not recommended to charge a fee; however, you may recoup costs for shipping, storing, and supplies (bags, sterilization products, labels, etc.). Generally, the guidelines for privately donating should mimic the guidelines for donating through a milk bank, but recipients are likely to be less stringent and will allow for certain things to be in the breast milk their babies receive. You should still be relatively healthy and keep at least 100 oz of milk on hand for your own baby should you experience supply issues. You should also be willing to submit to blood tests and a questionnaire (please be as honest as possible; a baby’s life could be at risk).

  3. Be wary of for-profit banks. There are many for-profit milk banks out there. These banks may solicit you to donate your milk and then turn around and sell the milk for profit at a much higher rate then what the non-profit banks charge for their milk. They may also mask this by having programs that donate milk to infants in other countries but if you read the fine print, you might find that only 25% of the milk you donate actually goes to the “cause” they support. The rest is sold for profit while you donated your milk out of the kindness of your heart.

  4. Beware of solicitations for payment for your milk. Again, there are some weird people out there and they might offer to pay for your milk at extremely high prices. Research your recipient. They should be researching you as well. Listing your breast milk on websites such as Craigslist or eBay is not a good idea and will only foster the "crazies" calling or emailing you. Keep yourself and your family safe; find a milk bank or a legitimate website for donating your milk.

  5. Once you find a milk bank or recipient, treat the milk as if it was going to your own baby. Pump and process the milk just like you would for your own baby. Sterilize your pump parts and accessories after each session and at least once a day. Freeze the milk immediately and follow the guidelines if you are “layering” your milk (cool the milk in the refrigerator first before pouring onto frozen milk). Label each bottle or bag appropriately. If you are a private donor, make sure the baby is near your baby’s age since the composition of breast milk changes as your baby ages.

Elizabeth Petrucelli, CD(DONA), CLD, is a certified labor doula and mother of 1 who donated over 2300 oz to the Mother's Milk Bank of Denver. She is a strong supporter of Mother's Milk Banks.

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