If you are looking at breastmilk donation (whether for your baby or to become a donor), you have a few options available. The two main choices are informal and formal breastmilk sharing. Let’s break down these two options and their pros and cons so you can make the best decision for you and your baby!
When You Should Look Into Breastmilk Donation
Breastmilk donations are an amazing way that moms with an oversupply or additional milk can help support other moms on their breastfeeding journey!
Whether you are struggling with slow supply, have a preemie baby, or would like to breastfeed but can’t for a number of reasons, breastmilk donation is the perfect way to give your baby the benefits of breast milk. Both informal and formal breastmilk donation allows new parents to support their babies in a way that works for them!
Informal Breastmilk Donation
With informal breastmilk donation, it is your responsibility to find and evaluate a milk donor. There are some benefits to this option, but there are also risks.
Benefits of Informal Milk Sharing
There are many benefits to finding your own donor in an informal breastmilk sharing arrangement! For example, you can look to close friends and family members to supplement a certain amount of ounces or fully supply the breastmilk your baby needs.
It is also easier (in some instances) to receive a breastmilk donation with informal sharing. You could find someone nearby and receive breastmilk as soon as the next day! This also opens up the door for finding milk from more than one donor so you can easily meet your baby’s needs or if you need to switch donors for any reason.
Risks With Informal Breastmilk Donation
However, there tend to be more risks with informal milk sharing. Because you are in charge of assessing the donor, you have to really trust the person you will be receiving breastmilk from to ensure that it is safe for your baby.
Many women who do not have close friends or family that can provide breastmilk may also look to their community or online groups such as Facebook to find breastmilk donation options. Because they wouldn’t know these people personally, they have to rely on the answers the donors provide.
You are also responsible for screening donors and asking questions about medications, alcohol, tobacco, drug use, herbs/supplements, and any other concerns you might have that could lead to breast milk issues.
Additionally, you wouldn’t know how clean they keep their pump parts or other surfaces and containers the breastmilk would come in contact with. This includes the proper storing and freezing of the breastmilk as well!
Lastly, some moms with specific preferences may find it more difficult to find a donor who meets their needs. If they don’t want the donor to use certain methods for storing or pumping milk, it can be harder to find the perfect match. Example: the pitcher method for storing.
Questions to Ask an Informal Milk Donor
If you are looking for informal breastmilk donation, here are a few questions you could ask the potential donor:
- Does the donor use any substances (alcohol, tobacco, drugs, medications, supplements, etc) that could be present in the milk?
- Is there any cost to purchase and/or ship the breastmilk?
- What is their current routine with collecting, storing, and transporting the milk safely?
Pasteurizing Donated Breast milk at Home
Because informal milk sharing does have a risk for bacterial and viral transmissions as well as possible contamination issues or environmental contaminants, you have the option to pasteurize the breast milk after you receive it.
Donated breastmilk can be heat-processed to remove any of these potentially harmful bacteria and viruses.
- Place the milk that you will need to sterilize in a heat-resistant (non-plastic) container or jar. The amount of breastmilk should be no more than 150mL and no less than 50mL. If you have more milk, you should use another glass container or jar to repeat the process.
- Use a pot of water (about 2-3 inches full) to place the glass jars in.
- Boil the water until you start seeing large bubbles at the top. Leave the breast milk in this water for no longer than 5 minutes. *Leaving the breast milk in the water for too long can cause the nutrients to deteriorate.*
- Once the water comes to a boil, remove the glass containers immediately and place them in COLD water. Let it sit in the water until the breast milk reaches room temperature (78F or 25.5C). You can use a thermometer to check this.
- Once the breast milk is at room temperature, feed it to your baby within 6 hours OR you can refrigerate and/or refreeze the breastmilk for future use.
Formal Breastmilk Donation
The other donation option is a formal approach. This is when you would use a third party such as the HMBANA to receive breastmilk.
How to Become a Milk Donor
In my experience as a breastmilk donor, the whole process took about 3-4 months. The biggest part of the process is having your OBGYN follow through with the different steps.
- Go through an initial phone screening with the organization you will be donating the milk to
- Get a medical release from your OB and your baby’s PCP (Primary Care Provider)
- Obtain the required bloodwork and pass any requirements set
- Once these steps have all been completed and passed, it can still take 1-2 months for you to learn the next steps on how the milk bank will receive your milk
Benefits of Formal Milk Donation
One of the greatest benefits of formal milk sharing is that the breastmilk and donors both go through a strict screening process. Before you can become a donor with a formal milk bank, you need to go through an interview process, provide information from your doctor, and get a blood test (among other requirements) to ensure that you are able to donate breastmilk. These facilities won’t accept breastmilk from mothers who use certain medications, supplements, or have certain illnesses/conditions.
On top of that, the breastmilk itself is also screened once it gets to the facility. It is also pasteurized to ensure that it is safe for consumption by getting rid of any bacteria that may be present!
The milk given out through these organizations is typically used for NICU babies who are not quite ready to breastfeed. It can be difficult for preemie babies to nurse, and moms may still be working on pumping to create a solid milk supply. This is where organizations like the HMBANA come in handy.
Cons of Formal Milk Sharing
However, there are also some cons. For example, when breastmilk is pasteurized, it can potentially lose some nutritional elements. While this isn’t a deal breaker for many moms in need, it is important to note.
Additionally, there are a limited amount of milk bank facilities in many areas. For example, HMBANA only has 31 facilities in the U.S. and Canada. Unlike informal donation options where you can find someone in your own city, there may not even be a milk bank in your state! While this doesn’t make it impossible to use a milk bank, it can make receiving or donating milk more difficult.
Choosing the Best Milk Donation Method
Overall, it really depends on what you and your family believe is the best method. There are pros and cons to both methods, but neither of these milk-sharing options is completely bad. As long as you can trust the people you are connecting with and believe this method is best for your family, you can make it work. The most important part of breastmilk donation is that your baby is able to receive the milk they need!
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