Is Donor Breastmilk Safe for Your Baby?

Is Donor Breastmilk Safe for Your Baby?

Ah! Breastfeeding! The joys of your newborn snuggled close, your body supplying them with all their nutritional needs, as you inhale the euphoric scent of their skin.  This is the dream most women paint, when they think about what their breastfeeding journey will be like.  But what happens when there is an emergency or you just can't quite keep up with the demands of a newborn? What then?

I had the pleasure of working in the NICU last night! Squishy babies ALL night :-)   I was even MORE pleased to find the bountiful supplies of breastmilk my baby's mom had pumped and stored in our freezer for him.  Then that got me thinking.  What about the other babies? What if their mother's were on medication that prevented them from giving their babies' breastmilk? What if they simply didn't have enough?  So I posed the question? Do we allow donor milk? Does my hospital make donor milk available to patients that want it? The answer is NO. 

Why is donor breastmilk so important for NICU babies?

As you can imagine, premature newborns or babies with complications are more susceptible to infections.  Breast-fed premature infants have lower rates of neurodevelopmental delays than those who are fed formula.  Also, their digestive systems are not as developed.  They are more likely to suffer from a dangerous gut infection called necrotizing enterocolitis.  Human breastmilk is easier on their digestive system, and requires less metabolic work to break down and metabolize.  

How can you get it?

I will admit, it's not easy! First, you need a prescription from a healthcare provider.  Donor milk is seen as a medication in most hospitals.  Upon discharge, you may need a prescription to continue to receive donor milk from some banks.  Some hospitals are picking up the tab of the cost of donor milk to low-income families, but this isn't guaranteed.  Donor milk can be highly expensive to purchase out of pocket.  A newborn 1-6 months can eat approximately 25 ounces per day.  With the cost of donor milk between $1 and $4 an ounce, it can accumulate to $3,300 per month.  

At the core of the issue concerning insurance companies and medicaid paying for donor milk is its classification.  Should it be classified as food, tissue, or medicine. States such as New York; (which I'm growing more fond of each day, free college tuition, paid maternity to name a few reasons); and California, classify human milk as tissue just like blood.  If it were classified as a food, it would be charged to the hospital room.  

The business of donor milk.

Each year, new human milk banks open and new milk-focused companies are launched. But the commercialization of breast milk makes many people uneasy. They worry that companies might capture most of the excess breast milk and make products that would be too costly for many babies, while leaving less milk available for nonprofit milk banks.

Debate is also intense over whether women should be paid for their milk or donate it altruistically. Opponents of payments, worried about breast milk “farming,” say women might try to increase their milk output unsafely, hide health problems that could make the milk unsafe, mix in cow milk to increase volume or deprive their own babies so they can sell more.  - Breast Milk Becomes a Commodity, With Mothers Caught Up in Debate

Do you even want it?

Now the ultimate question.  The question that drives legislation.  Do moms even want it? Today's climate says yes! More and more moms are joining communities where they can swap and donate milk. Now I will never judge anyone's decision; heck I know about 3 people I'd allow to breastfeed my baby.  But I do believe the safest access to donor milk, are through banks.  It's processed thoroughly for infections thus making it safer.  But a stigma surrounding donor breastmilk still exist.  If we thing about it logically, why is it taboo to drink milk from other humans, but acceptable to drink milk from another species?  I chalk this up to good 'ol American marketing.  I think with time, we will begin to see donor breastmilk the way view receiving blood, or blood products.  Either way, more families are requesting access to it.

How can we make donor milk more affordable? 

Pauline Sakamoto, president of HMBANA, suggests these steps: 

  • Ask your employer or insurer to provide coverage for donor milk.

  • Spread the word. Talk to your medical providers about donor milk.

  • Support the U.S. Breastfeeding Committee in helping shape federal policy on donor milk programs. Go to to learn how.

  • Support the establishment of clean, private places for mothers to pump at work. The more women nurse and pump, the greater the possible supply of donor milk.


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