Milk Banking Frequently Asked Questions
- Why should I donate?
If you have too much breast milk, it can be processed into specialty formulations for the nutritional needs of critically ill, premature infants in neonatal intensive care units. Many moms donate their excess breast milk to help babies in need because they have had a preterm baby in the past or know someone who has had that experience. Breast milk donors report a sense of satisfaction knowing they are providing their milk to help sick, premature infants.
- How do I know if I am a candidate to donate milk?
Almost any nursing mother can donate. If you are healthy with a good medical history, you are a likely candidate. You will need to complete a medical survey, get medical confirmation from your doctor and your baby's pediatrician, have your blood tested for diseases and give a cheek cell sample, all at no cost to you. You will be informed of any test results that would indicate a health problem so that you can follow up with your doctor. If all of your results are fine, you can begin to donate breast milk.
- Will I have enough milk for my baby if I donate?
The milk bank only wants excess milk. Make sure that your own baby's needs are met before donating milk. That being said, your body makes milk on a supply and demand basis and adjusts to the amount of milk needed. If you are worried about your baby getting enough milk, you can express an hour or so after feeding your baby. If your baby's doctor is happy with your baby's weight gain, there is no need to worry about having enough milk.
- Can I donate milk I pumped prior to being qualified as a donor (previously
You can donate previously collected breast milk as long as it is less than 10 months old and you become a qualified donor. Also, the following conditions must be met to accept previously collected milk.
- If you become a qualified breast milk donor, all previously collected milk may be accepted if it was pumped under the same conditions (i.e. milk bank approved medical conditions) as when you became qualified.
- All previously collected milk must have been frozen immediately after pumping and stored in bags or bottles designed to store human milk (breast milk storage bags). We cannot accept milk that was stored in reused food containers. For example, we cannot take milk that was stored in old dairy milk cartons or juice bottles.
- All previously collected milk must have been continuously frozen since the time it was first pumped. The milk could never have been thawed and refrozen.
- Ideally, each pumping should be in a separate container that is frozen immediately after pumping. However, if you have previously collected milk and put multiple pumpings into a single container, that milk is acceptable if: The container was placed in the freezer immediately after pumping and the additional freshly pumped milk was added to the frozen milk in the container at various intervals, OR, the container was kept in the refrigerator for no more than 12 hours and additional, freshly pumped milk was added at various intervals; then the container was placed and left in the freezer.
- All previously collected milk should be fully dated with the month, day and year the milk was expressed. It is also very helpful if you can write the last five digits of your assigned donor number (you will be assigned a number as soon as you start the qualification process) on the container.
- All previously collected milk must be received not later than 10 months from the date of expression.
- When can I start expressing milk for the milk bank?
- When should I express?
When and how often you express your milk is up to you. Most donors find it easier to set a time each day to express milk. Most mothers have more milk in the morning, so mornings are a good time to pump. It can be harder to collect milk if you do not express it regularly. Some moms express from one breast while their babies feed from the other.
- What equipment will I need as a breast milk donor?
- How do I prepare to express my milk?
Because your milk will go to fragile babies, it is very important to carefully wash your hands with hot, soapy water. The water temperature should be as hot as can be tolerated without burning the skin. If you shower daily, you do not need to wash your breasts before pumping. If you are not able to shower daily, wash your breasts once a day. Take extra time to thoroughly wash your hands because harmful bacteria can be transmitted from your hands to the pumped milk. Though not necessarily dangerous to full term babies, some of these bacteria are dangerous to premature infants in the NICU and are not killed through pasteurization. Your donation will be tested for these bacteria and if they are found, your milk will be discarded. Do not handle your pump or your collection containers until you have washed your hands. Wash your pump parts regularly and collect breast milk into a dry, clean container which has been scrubbed with hot soapy water and thoroughly rinsed. The use of a sponge for washing is not recommended unless the sponge is only used to wash your breast milk bottles and the sponge is allowed to dry between uses. If possible, after the bottles and pump parts have been washed, run them through the dishwasher to sanitize them. Breast massage sometimes helps the flow of milk. After massaging the breast, roll the nipple back and forth using your index finger and thumb. Stretch the nipple slightly. This will encourage the release of hormones that help the flow of milk.
- How should I store the milk prior to shipping?
Pump directly into the clean bottle connected to the pump. When you have finished your pumping session or the bottle is full, transfer the milk into a breast milk storage bag. Freeze the milk immediately after expressing. Containers should be stored separately from other foods in the freezer. Do not place multiple pumpings in a single breast milk storage bag.
- What if I have taken medications?
- What if I am ill?
- Can I drink alcohol while donating?
- What do I do if I go out of town?
- How do I get the milk to the Milk Bank?
In some cases you will need to bring the milk to the milk bank. Most of the milk banks will provide you with a cold shipping container to ship the milk to them. All shipping costs will be covered by the milk bank. There is no additional cost to you. We usually ask that you donate your milk when you have a minimum of 25 breast milk storage bags; however, if you have been pumping and storing milk prior to becoming a donor, we will accept milk that has been properly stored for up to 10 months.
- Does the milk bank have a confidentiality policy?
- Will only babies receive my donated milk?
Nearly all the breast milk donated will go to babies in need after processing at Prolacta Bioscience. Following screening, testing, formulation and processing, the specialized milk formulations are sold to hospitals for use in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. A small portion of your donated milk may be used for ongoing human breast milk research. Each milk bank has a specific mission. See each milk bank's website for additional information.
- Will I be paid for my donations?
The current practice in North America is to accept breast milk donations without compensating the mother for the milk donation. However, we do supply breast milk storage bags, cover all shipping expenses, and bear the cost for complete donor testing. Some of Prolacta's affiliated milk banks offer charitable contributions on the donors' behalf based on the amount of milk donated. Prolacta affiliated milk banks receive payment from Prolacta Bioscience for the milk they collect.
- What if I only want to make a one time donation? I've been pumping extra milk for months and I have more than my baby will ever take.
- How will my milk be used?
Your donated breast milk will be used by Prolacta to make the only human milk fortifier made from 100% human milk, as opposed to cow milk. Prolacta's 100% human milk-based human milk fortifier, Prolact+ H2MF, provides critically ill premature infants with the nutrition necessary to support appropriate growth and development. Prolacta's human milk-based products have been formulated to deliver exact caloric and protein levels every time. This product is critical to premature infants in the NICU who require higher levels of protein and calories than can be provided by mothers' milk alone. Prolacta also manufactures other standarized human milk products for infants in the NICU made from donated milk, however Prolact+ H2MF is their lead product. Aditionally, some of the donor milk collected through Prolacta's partnership with the International Breast Milk Project will be sent to Africa and provided to infants suffering from HIV/AIDS, malnourishment, poverty and disease. It is used only when a baby does not have access to his/her mother's own milk, including babies who are abandoned or orphaned of HIV+ mothers.
- Does Prolacta give the milk to hospitals or sell it? Is Prolacta a nonprofit company?
Prolacta Bioscience produces human milk fortifier. Prolact+ H2MF is the first and only human milk fortifier made from 100% human breast milk (as opposed to cow's milk). Prolact+ H2MF is intended for critically ill and premature infants in the NICU. Although your donated milk forms the precious raw material needed by these infants, extensive testing, formulation and processing must be done so that doctors can feel confident that the human milk formulations they give their patients are as safe as possible. In order to provide this processing and formulation, millions of dollars were invested in processing equipment and testing. Much like the blood banking industry, the blood is donated by individuals, tested, processed and sold by blood processors. Prolacta Bioscience is a for profit company that has built a business model that is sustainable so that parents of preterm babies can trust that there will be a ready source of safe human milk formulations when babies need it.
- What resources are available if I have more questions?
Contact your milk bank for more information.
- After lactation begins, how long can a nursing mother donate?
- Where does my breast milk go once I donate?
- What does Prolacta Bioscience do?
Prolacta Bioscience is privately held life sciences company dedicated to improving the quality of life in the most fragile infants through the harmony of nature and science. They create specialty formulations made from human milk for the nutritional needs of premature infants in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). They developed the first large scale human milk processing facility in the world. They are committed to supporting research in the study of human milk and premature infant nutrition in order to make a difference in the lives of the most fragile babies in the NICU.
- What is qualified milk?
Qualified milk is donated milk which has met all the qualification guidelines. This includes two main phases: qualification of the donor and qualification of the milk she donates. Qualification of the donor includes medical history screening, freezer qualification, DNA profile creation, and viral blood screening. After the donor qualification is completed, she may send her milk to the milk bank. Once the milk is received at Prolacta Bioscience it must undergo and pass several rigorous testing procedures, including but not limited to, bacterial screening, drug screening, and DNA matching. Upon successful completion of these screening procedures, the milk is considered qualified for use in making 100% human milk fortifiers and standardized human milk for use in the NICU.
- How cold should my freezer be to store breast milk?