Frequently Asked Questions About Milk Donation

Organizational questions about IBMP? Read frequently asked questions about IBMP here.

Why should I donate?
If you have extra milk, it can be processed into specialty formulations for the nutritional needs of premature and critically ill infants in neonatal intensive care units. Many moms donate their extra milk to help babies in need because they have had a preterm baby in the past or know someone who has had that experience. Milk donors report a sense of satisfaction knowing they are providing their milk to help premature or sick infants.

How do I know if I am a candidate to donate milk?
Almost any nursing mother can donate. If you are healthy with a good medical history, you are a likely candidate. You will need to complete a medical survey, get medical confirmation from your doctor and your baby's pediatrician, have your blood tested for diseases and give a cheek cell sample, all at no cost to you. You will be informed of any test results that would indicate a health problem so that you can follow up with your doctor. If all of your results are fine, you can begin donating.

Will I have enough milk for my baby if I donate?
The milk bank only wants excess milk. Make sure that your own baby's needs are met before donating milk. That being said, your body makes milk on a supply and demand basis and adjusts to the amount of milk needed. If you are worried about your baby getting enough milk, you can express an hour or so after feeding your baby. If your baby's doctor is happy with your baby's weight gain, there is no need to worry about having enough milk.

Can I donate milk I pumped prior to being qualified as a donor (previously collected milk)?
You can donate previously collected milk as long as it is less than 10 months old and you become a qualified donor. Also, the following conditions must be met to accept previously collected milk.

  1. If you become a qualified donor, all previously collected milk may be accepted if it was pumped under the same conditions (i.e. milk bank approved medical conditions) as when you became qualified.
  2. All previously collected milk must have been frozen immediately after pumping and stored in bags or bottles designed to store human milk. We cannot accept milk that was stored in reused food containers. For example, we cannot take milk that was stored in old dairy milk cartons or juice bottles.
  3. All previously collected milk must have been continuously frozen since the time it was first pumped. The milk could never have been thawed and refrozen.
  4. We can only accept milk with one pumping per container. Please do not store one container in the refrigerator and add to the container over multiple pumpings. The main reasons are to avoid excess bacterial growth that can occur along with increased chance of rancidity of the milk.
  5. All previously collected milk should be fully dated with the month, day and year the milk was expressed. It is also very helpful if you can write the last five digits of your assigned donor number (you will be assigned a number as soon as you start the qualification process) on the container.
  6. All previously collected milk must be received not later than 10 months from the date of expression.

When can I start expressing milk for the milk bank?
You should establish breastfeeding for your own baby before you begin donating. We recommend you wait three to four weeks after your baby's birth to begin the application process to become a donor and then only do so if your baby is doing well and gaining weight.

When should I express?
When and how often you express your milk is up to you. Most donors find it easier to set a time each day to express milk. Most mothers have more milk in the morning, so mornings are a good time to pump. It can be harder to collect milk if you do not express it regularly. Some moms express from one breast while their babies feed from the other.

What equipment will I need as a donor?
The milk bank will provide each donor with breast milk storage bags for storing their expressed milk once the donor becomes qualified. Donors will need to obtain a breast pump to express their milk for donation.

How do I prepare to express my milk?
Because you are pumping for critically ill babies, it is very important to carefully wash your hands with hot, soapy water. The water temperature should be as hot as can be tolerated without burning the skin. If you shower daily, you do not need to wash your breasts before pumping. If you are not able to shower daily, wash your breasts once a day. Take extra time to thoroughly wash your hands because harmful bacteria can be transmitted from your hands to the pumped milk. Though not necessarily dangerous to full term babies, some of these bacteria are dangerous to critically ill infants in the NICU and are not killed through pasteurization. Your donation will be tested for these bacteria and if they are found, your milk will be discarded. Do not handle your pump or your collection containers until you have washed your hands. Wash your pump parts regularly and collect breast milk into a dry, clean container which has been scrubbed with hot soapy water and thoroughly rinsed. The use of a sponge for washing is not recommended unless the sponge is only used to wash your breast milk bottles and the sponge is allowed to dry between uses. If possible, after the bottles and pump parts have been washed, run them through the dishwasher to sanitize them. Breast massage sometimes helps the flow of milk. After massaging the breast, roll the nipple back and forth using your index finger and thumb. Stretch the nipple slightly. This will encourage the release of hormones that help the flow of milk.

How should I store the milk prior to shipping?
Pump directly into the cleaned bottle connected to the pump. When you have finished your pumping session or the bottle is full, transfer the milk into a breast milk storage bag. Freeze the milk immediately after expressing. Containers should be stored separately from other foods in the freezer. Do not place multiple pumpings in a single breast milk storage bag.

What if I have taken medications?
Check with your milk bank about any medications you are taking, including over-the-counter remedies (those you can buy without a prescription from your doctor). The milk bank will tell you whether you qualify to donate while taking your medications.

What if I am ill?
Please contact the milk bank whenever you are feeling ill or if anyone in the family is ill. They will tell you that you should stop donating until your illness passes and inform you when it is okay to resume pumping for donation.

Can I drink alcohol while donating?
Your milk bank will accept milk from donors consuming up to two units of alcohol per day (a unit is equal to one glass of wine, one beer or one shot of liquor).

What do I do if I go out of town?
Expressing when you are away from home can help you maintain your milk supply, especially if you are away from your baby. However, any milk that is expressed while you are traveling cannot be donated, because we cannot ensure that the temperature of the milk was properly maintained.

How do I get the milk to the Milk Bank?
We will provide you with a cold shipping container to ship the milk directly to Prolacta Bioscience. We usually ask that you donate your milk when you have a minimum of 25 breast milk storage bags; however, if you have been pumping and storing milk prior to becoming a donor, we will accept milk that has been properly stored for up to 10 months.

Does the milk bank have a confidentiality policy?
Any health information collected about donors remains confidential.

Why do you need to do DNA testing?
The DNA matching step is necessary so that the milk we receive is matched to our qualified donors. This safety step eliminates the possibility that milk from non-qualified mothers is included in product that is ultimately given to fragile premature babies.

Will only babies receive my donated milk?
Nearly all the breast milk donated will go to sick babies in hospitals after processing at Prolacta Bioscience. Following screening, testing, formulation and processing, the specialized milk formulations are sold to hospitals for use in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. A small portion of your donated milk may be used for ongoing human breast milk research.

Will I be paid for my donations?
Donors are not paid for their milk. However, we do cover shipping, supplies and testing expenses.

What if I only want to make a one time donation? I've been pumping extra milk for months and I have more than my baby will ever take.
One time donations of 100 ounces or more are welcome. Please tell us how much you have in storage and how long it has been stored.

Does Prolacta give the milk to hospitals or sell it? Is Prolacta a non-profit company?
Prolacta Bioscience produces human milk fortifier. Prolact+ H2MF is the first and only human milk fortifier made from 100% human breast milk (as opposed to cow's milk). H2MF is intended for critically ill and premature infants in the NICU. Although your donated milk forms the precious raw material needed by these infants, extensive testing, formulation and processing must be done so that doctors can feel confident that the human milk formulations they give their patients are as safe as possible. In order to provide this processing and formulation, millions of dollars were invested in processing equipment and testing. Much like the blood banking industry, where blood is donated by individuals, tested, processed and sold by blood processors. Prolacta Bioscience is a for profit company that has built a business model that is sustainable so that parents of preterm babies can trust that there will be a ready source of safe human milk formulations when babies need it.

What resources are available if I have more questions?
Contact us for more information.

After lactation begins, how long can a nursing mother donate?
There is no time limit on how long you can donate your milk. Since Prolacta Bioscience blends and formulates the milk specifically for preterm babies, there is less concern about minor variations in nutrients that may occur later in lactation.

What is qualified milk?
Once donor milk, which has met all the qualification guidelines, is received at Prolacta Bioscience it must undergo and pass several rigorous testing procedures before it is considered qualified for use in making 100% human milk fortifiers and standardized human milk for use in the NICU.