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What's a Milk Bank and Why is Milk Banking Important?

Milk banks collect, screen, process, and dispense human milk donated by lactating parents who are not biologically related to the infants who will receive their milk.
by 
Zulesky Aparicio
photo credit:  
What is a milk bank and what happens there?

Milk banks collect, screen, process, and dispense human milk donated by lactating parents who are not biologically related to the infants who will receive their milk. Milk banks around the world play an essential role in the community where they’re located. Their priority is saving babies’ lives by providing prescribed human milk when a parent’s own breast milk isn’t available. As health organizations, most milk banks also provide education that advocates for lactation education, human milk research, and breast and chest feeding normalization.

The organization that regulates milk banking is The Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA). They mobilize the healing power of donor milk by accrediting non profit milk banks in the US and Canada and setting international standards for using pasteurized donor human milk in hospitals.  Currently there are 29 milk bank members, up from 10 in 2010.

Who can donate milk?

Milk donors come in all shapes and sizes. They are most often nursing or pumping for their own babies, have an abundant milk supply, and donate their surplus milk to a milk bank. Some parents who’ve experienced infant loss induce lactation and pump for donation as a step in their grieving process. Donors often say they receive deep personal satisfaction from knowing they have helped improve the health of other babies. And while some donors intentionally give their body signals to increase their milk output and build up a freezer stash, others find themselves with unexpected extra milk at the end of their lactation journey.

Is donor human milk safe?

Yes. The HMBANA member milk banks follow strict screening, processing and dispensing standards established to ensure the safety of donor human milk. These standards have been established in partnership with the CDC, the US FDA, and the blood and tissue industries. Donor milk is pasteurized, cultured, and processed for hospitals and outpatient babies.

Who receives donor milk?

The majority of human milk recipients are hospitalized preterm or sick babies who need the optimal nutrition, easy digestibility, and infection-fighting components of human milk. Common reasons for prescribing donor human milk include: premature birth, failure to thrive, formula intolerance, food allergies, malabsorption syndromes, immunologic deficiencies and  pre or post-operative nutrition and immunologic support. When supply allows it, milk banks also provide donor milk to well-baby units in hospitals and babies at home whose parents prefer human milk but are unable to provide it themselves. Milk from a non profit milk bank is sold at cost, and typically the processing fee is paid by the hospital, private insurance, or in some states, Medicaid.

Are you interested in receiving or donating milk?

There are milk banks throughout the US and throughout the world! You can find all the milk banks under the The Human Milk Banking Association of North America umbrella, here.

Zulesky Aparicio | She/Her/Hers | @austinmilkbank

Zulesky Aparicio works with Mothers Milk Bank Austin, which saves babies' lives by providing safe, pasteurized donor milk to babies born too sick or too soon.

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