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Banked human milk: What you need to know

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What is banked human milk?

Banked human milk is breast milk donated by women who are currently breastfeeding their own babies and have an abundant milk supply. They donate their extra breast milk to milk banks for babies who may need it.

Donating breast milk has been a common practice for more than 100 years in Europe, Norway, Denmark and Sweden. This practice is expanding around the world. There are currently 10 milk banks in North America.

How is banked human milk used in the hospital?

There are times when your baby may need a supplement to your own breast milk. This supplement can be your own pumped breast milk, banked human milk or formula. Supplementing with your own pumped breast milk or banked human milk provides the most complete nutrition.

Some of the reasons your baby may need a banked human milk supplement are:

  • low blood glucose that has not responded to breastfeeding or expressed breastmilk
  • too much weight loss
  • dehydration or jaundice with dehydration and there is not enough of your own breast milk for feedings
  • you need to take a medicine that may be harmful if passed to your baby through breast milk.

You may also ask for a banked human milk supplement when breastfeeding or pumping have not been enough to meet your baby’s needs or you need a rest and you wish to only breastfeed.

Is banked human milk safe?

The safety standards used for banked human milk were created by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) with help from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Banked human milk is screened and tested for safety. It is pasteurized (heated to a high temperature) to remove any bacteria or germs that may be in the breastmilk. The banked human milk is then frozen for use.

It is recommended by the FDA to only use breast milk from screened donors and milk banks that are accredited by HMBANA. Accredited means that the individual or milk bank works by rules that make sure that safety and quality standards are followed.

It is not recommended to use breast milk directly from individuals or getting it through the Internet from donors who may not have been screened for infectious diseases or contamination risk.

As with any food, always wash your hands before and after handling containers of banked human milk.

How do women become breast milk donors?

Donors go through an extensive screening to determine if they meet the health requirements. This includes:

  • a health history provided by the donor and her health care provider
  • blood screening, which includes testing for AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) and other viruses
  • written recommendations from the donor’s health care provider and her baby’s health care provider.

A donor can’t smoke or take medicines while she is a donor. Each donor also receives instructions on how to safely collect, handle and store her breastmilk.

Do donors get paid to donate breast milk?

Women who donate breast milk do not get paid.

How much does human banked milk cost?

There is no charge for banked human breast milk given to your baby during
your hospital stay.

After you leave the hospital, banked human milk can be purchased from several different sources. The cost will vary. Your nurse or lactation consultant can give you more information about how to buy banked human milk.

Can you give your baby formula?

If giving your baby banked human milk is not your choice, formula is available. Talk with your baby’s health care provider about what formula is best for your baby.

Children's supports feeding breast milk whenever possible. Babies who are fed breast milk are less likely to have allergies, asthma, diabetes, ear infections, pneumonia and diarrhea.

More Information

For more information about banked human milk, visit hmbana.org.

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This page is not specific to your child, but provides general information on the topic above. If you have any questions, please call your clinic. For more reading material about this and other health topics, please call or visit Children's Family Resource Center library, or visit www.childrensmn.org/educationmaterials.

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