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Donor Human Milk; Human Milk for Human Babies

Virginia Bernal, RN, IBCLC

No one questions that infants� optimal food, with rare exception, is their own mother�s milk. Human milk for human babies is the gold standard in terms of nutrition and immunological protection. Sometimes, however, a mother cannot provide milk for her infant. She may be severely ill. There may be a delay in her milk coming in. Or she may have the rare illness or be taking the rare medication that contraindicates breastfeeding. If her baby is premature or otherwise fragile due to illness, should he be deprived of the health-giving properties of human milk because his own mother is unable to provide it? That is when human milk banking can come to the rescue. The pasteurized human milk retains the vast majority of its bioactive components such as secretory IgA, lactoferrin, lysozyme, oligosaccharides, and growth factors. Banked human milk improves the infants� host defenses, digestion, absorption of nutrients, gastrointestinal function, and neurodevelopment.

In the 1980�s the United States had 30 milk banks. Most of these were closed with the advent of AIDS and concern about possible disease transmission. Then in the early 1990�s it was confirmed that pasteurization removed this danger. Today donor milk banking is growing all around the world. In the United States there are currently five human milk banks. They follow the guidelines of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA), which works closely with the AAP, CDC, and FDA.

A donor human milk bank is a service established for the purpose of collecting, screening, processing and distributing donated human milk to meet the specific needs of individuals for whom human milk has been prescribed by a doctor/midwife.

If a mother cannot supply sufficient milk, babies who can benefit as recipients of banked human milk are those with:
Allergies or sensitivities to formulas
Failure to thrive (FTT)
Immune deficiencies
Malabsorption syndromes
Gastrointestinal problems
Post-surgical nutrition
Short gut syndrome
Solid organ transplants (including adults)

In California banked human milk can be obtained by doctor's prescription from Mother's Milk Bank at Valley Medical Center in San Jose. There are milk depots, regional collection and distribution centers that facilitate these two functions for the milk bank, but the milk bank is the one that screens the mothers, pasteurizes the milk using strict microbiological controls, and fills the prescriptions.

The Orange County Breastfeeding Coalition (OCBFC) is currently exploring the feasibility of establishing a human milk depot in our area. Their initial effort is to apply for funding to organize a conference with experts in the field to present to physicians and nurses the science supporting the use of banked human milk and its practical application. For more information, please contact the OCBFC at 714 - 242-1633 or e-mail or visit the OCBFC website.


Become a milk donor in Orange County
Orange County Breastfeeding Coalition
Human Milk Bank Association of North America
Breastfeeding Page

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© 2004 Virginia Bernal. Used with permission.