Donate Your Breast Milk – and Help Save a Little Life
Donating your breast milk to hospitals that are treating sick and premature infants is one of the kindest things you can do. Human milk has been shown to have positive health effects for babies. And neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) across the country are using donated breast milk more and more often.
In 2017, 10% of all U.S. infants were born prematurely – about 385,000 babies. Other babies were hospitalized in NICUs after an injury or illness. Many doctors feel that breast milk is the best nutrition these babies could receive.
When a mom can’t produce enough breast milk – because of illness, injuries, or her own body not being ready – donated breast milk can be the next best thing for hospitalized babies.
How Do I Donate Breast Milk?
If you have extra breast milk, and you’d like to share this life-giving gift, here are some things you should know:
- To be safe, talk to your doctor first. Make sure you can spare the milk, with no problems for you or your baby.
- You’ll need a breast pump. You can probably get one for free or at a low cost if you have Medicaid or health insurance. You can place an order easily.
- To find a milk bank near you, visit the Human Milk Banking Association of North America’s website (HMBNA).
- You will fill out some paperwork, and give a medical history. You’ll also be screened for contagious diseases like HIV or hepatitis.
- You’ll receive special instructions for how to donate your milk, such as hand washing, cleaning your breasts and nipples, and sterilizing your breast pump equipment.
- The milk bank will test your milk for protein, fat, and calories. It will also treat your milk to kill all known pathogens (germs that cause disease).
Where Does Donated Breast Milk Go?
The milk bank will then transport the donated breast milk to its destination. In general, milk banks prioritize the donated milk this way:
- NICUs and hospitals that are treating sick or premature infants.
- Infants who are at home, but have medical issues because they were born prematurely or they have feeding problems.
- If possible, healthy babies whose mothers cannot provide breast milk for a reason other than a medical condition.
- Some milk may be used for research purposes.
Which Babies Get Donated Breast Milk?
Besides being premature, a baby also might need donated breast milk if he or she:
- Does not thrive
- Cannot absorb nutrients well
- Has allergies
- Has an intolerance to feedings or formula
- Has a low immune system
- Has had surgery and needs extra nutrition
- Has an infectious disease
For the sickest and tiniest babies, breast milk is like liquid gold. It can be easier to digest, build up their immune systems, lower their risk of infection, and help them develop in a healthier way. Donating your milk can be one of the most rewarding things you’ll ever do. You’ll know you’ve helped a baby heal, and maybe even saved a life. There’s no better expression of compassion than that.