What to Know About Donating Your Breast Milk and Receiving Donated Milk

pumped breastmilk freezer

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There are many reasons parents of little ones consider donating or receiving breast milk. You may have a stash of unused pumped milk in your freezer and would like to share it with someone in need. Or, you may be someone who has a low milk supply or a medically vulnerable baby and are hoping to secure some donor milk. Parents having trouble finding formula during a formula shortage may also be looking for donor milk.

Understanding the ins and outs of donating and receiving breast milk can be confusing. We are here to break things down for you and help you understand what your options are when it comes to donating your breast milk to others, or receiving it for your baby.

Donating Breast Milk

Donating breast milk is a compassionate, altruistic act, though for many people who donate, it all starts with the question: “What can I do with all this extra milk?” If you have extra milk you are looking to do something with, or just feel a tug in your heart to help others, you may be wondering what your options are.

Let’s take a look at why people donate their milk, whether or not you may be a good candidate for donation, and what the donation process looks like.

Why People Choose to Donate Milk

Most parents who choose to donate their milk do so because they have pumped more milk than their baby needs, says Sheela Rath Geraghty, MD, IBCLC, co-director of the Cincinnati Children’s Center for Breastfeeding Medicine and director of the Cincinnati Children’s Breastfeeding Medicine Clinic.

“[Parents] who pump their milk often make more milk than is needed to feed the baby,” Dr. Geraghty says. The reason for this is that when you are a pumping parent, you can’t always be sure that you’re pumping the exact right amount that your baby will take, and some parents pump more than their baby ends up drinking, Dr. Geraghty explains.

Besides parents who’ve pumped more than they need, donor parents may also be parents whose unique circumstances pull them toward sharing their milk with others, explains Rachelle King, RN, IBCLC Owner and lactation consultant at Latch Amoré in Orange County, Calif. “Some donors are surrogates or bereaved parents who choose to honor their loss through assisting others,” King notes.

How to Know If Donating Breast Milk Is Right For You

There are a few things to consider when determining if milk donation is right for you, says King. “It is important that you are in good overall health, have more than enough milk for your baby’s needs, and have the ability to freeze the milk appropriately and in a timely manner,” she explains. Additionally, some milk banks have infant age requirements, says King. This can vary, though, so it’s best to check with the particular bank you are considering donating to.

How to Donate Breast Milk

If you are looking to donate your milk, your best option is to donate to a milk bank approved by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA), says King. Currently, there are 31 HMBANA milk banks in America, and you can find the closest one to you by visiting the HMBANA website. HMBANA milk banks screen their donors scrupulously and take measures to ensure that milk is safe for the infants who receive it, including pasteurizing donated milk.

Each milk bank has its own screening guidelines, but in general, you will need to do a health screening before donating. This ensures that the milk you donate is healthy and safe for the babies who receive it. Interested parents usually take part in an initial phone screening, do a medical/lifestyle history review, and complete a medical release form, says Dr. Geraghty.

You will also be asked what medications you are taking. “There are contraindications to certain medications which can be donated—so this is a very important part of the screening,” Dr. Geraghty explains.

After this step, you will be asked to get a blood test screening for infections like HIV, hepatitis, and syphilis. “The milk bank pays for the laboratory screening,” Dr. Geraghty says. Any parent who is positive for any of these infections can’t donate their milk, Dr. Geraghty adds.

Receiving Breast Milk

There are two main ways that parents can receive donor breast milk: through a milk bank, or through an informal donation. There are limits as to who can receive donor milk from a milk bank, and informal milk sharing is not currently recommended by most major health organizations. Here’s what to know about what it might look like to secure donor milk for your baby.

What Are the Benefits of Receiving Donor Milk?

All babies can benefit from donor breast milk, but medically vulnerable babies are likely to benefit the most, says King. This is particularly true of babies who are in the NICU for any reason, and for premature babies. As King points out, providing breast milk to premature babies can significantly reduce their risk of contracting necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), which can be deadly. The AAP strongly advocates that premature infants receive donor milk when possible.

Babies aren’t the only ones who benefit from receiving donor milk, says King, especially if you are a parent dealing with a vulnerable baby. “The parent receiving the milk may feel empowered by knowing that they are still able to provide the optimal source of nutrition to their child,” she says. This can enhance the bonding experience and help them deal with any difficult feelings they are experiencing.

Who Is Eligible to Receive Donor Milk?

Donor milk is in high demand, particularly for hospitalized babies, says Dr. Geraghty. As such, unless your baby is hospitalized or has a serious medical need for donor milk, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to get some from a milk bank.

“Since there is not enough donor human milk for all babies, it is unlikely that any family can call an HMBANA milk bank and get the milk for their non-hospitalized baby,” Dr. Geraghty explains. “In rare instances, HMBANA milk banks will supply families with donor human milk directly with a physician’s prescription.”

This is unfortunate, but it’s the current reality. Dr. Geraghty says that during the 2022 formula shortage, families were directly called HMBANA milk banks to get donor milk, but there was simply not enough available milk for these parents.

What to Know About Informal Milk Sharing

Informal milk sharing—where you get donor milk from a friend or a stranger rather than from a milk bank—is not recommended by most medical organizations. For example, both the FDA and the AAP advise against this practice. As the FDA explains, the reason why this practice is not recommended is because of the lack of a screening process for donors and because donor breast milk can’t easily be made safe, such as through pasteurization.

However, many parents share breast milk with one another anyway, and there may be some safer ways to receive donor milk. For example, the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine (ABM) recommends only accepting milk from people you know or have met—no anonymous donors. This way, you can do your own informal medical screening of the donor. Your healthcare provider may be able to advise you about questions to ask potential donors, says the ABM. Questions to consider include health conditions they have and what medications they are taking.

Importantly, you should never buy breast milk off the internet, advises the ABM, as milk sold for profit is more likely to be diluted or tampered with. Furthermore, donors may not be completely honest about their medical history if they are seeking to turn a profit.

A Word From Verywell

You may be surprised by some of the realities of donating and receiving breast milk. You may not have realized that donating requires such a thorough medical background check, and you may be unhappy to learn about how difficult it can be to receive donor milk from a milk bank. If you have any further questions about donor breast milk—particularly if you are considering informal milk sharing or informal donating—contact your baby's pediatrician or a lactation consultant.

8 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. Human Milk Banking Association of North America. How To Help.

  3. Mothers' Milk Bank Northeast. Donor Milk Safety and Screening.

  4. Daniels S, Corkins M, de Ferranti S, et al. Donor Human Milk for the High-Risk Infant: Preparation, Safety, and Usage Options in the United States. Pediatrics. 2017;139(1):e20163440. doi:10.1542/peds.2016-3440

  5. Yang R, Chen D, Deng Q, et al. The effect of donor human milk on the length of hospital stay in very low birthweight infants: a systematic review and meta-analysis. International Breastfeeding Journal. 2020;15:89. doi:10.1186/s13006-020-00332-6

  6. American Academy of Pediatrics. Ensuring Safe Donor Human Milk for High-Risk Infants Who Need It.

  7. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Use of Donor Human Milk.

  8. Sriraman NK, Evans AE, Lawrence R, et al. Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine’s 2017 Position Statement on Informal Breast Milk Sharing for the Term Healthy Infant. Breastfeeding Medicine. 2018;13(1):2-4. doi: 10.1089/bfm.2017.29064.nks

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