Donating and Receiving Donor Human Milk

Feed the Baby and Maintain Supply. Those are the top priorities when a mother and baby are having difficulty feeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends:
1. Exclusive breastfeeding.
2. Expressed milk from the mother.
3. Pasteurized Human Donor Milk
4. Artificial Infant Food, also known as formula.

When a mother begins expressing her own milk, the sooner the better, she boosts her supply. Meanwhile, she can use Pasteurized Donor Human Milk (PDHM) to feed her baby. Breast milk as a first food is beneficial for all babies.This is especially  true for premature and sick infants who are in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

According to the Mothers Milk Bank NorthEast, “Over 90 hospitals in 11 states use our milk in their neonatal intensive care units, special care nurseries, and well-baby units.” Families can also receive PDHM beyond their stay at the hospital.

To be clear, Pasteurized Donor Human Milk comes from healthy women who, under specific guidelines, donate their milk to an official Human Milk Bank. The donor collects her milk and brings it to a milk depot.

The depot is a place where the milk can be stored in a freezer and then shipped to the milk bank. It’s at the Milk Bank that the donor milk is processed. (Briefly, this includes pasteurization, testing, labeling and freezing.)

A milk depot can be at a clinic office, a yoga studio or a day care center and many other places in the community. Anything is possible!  Starting this February 28, 2024, there is a new Milk Depot in Ellsworth, Maine at Anchored Womens Health. This will be helpful for donors in the Downeast area. There are also several other milk depots in Maine.

Having several milk depots in the community makes it easier for donors. It’s necessary to have a ‘distribution network’, a way to connect the donor to the Milk Bank and to the families. That’s a problem that’s been solved in creative ways.

Brasilia put together the largest network of human milk banks in the world. “Lactating women… call a milk bank courier or specially trained firefighter to come and pick up their contribution direct from their home.” Then the milk is taken to a milk bank for processing. That is convenient and effective.  The result: the proportion of Brazil’s babies who receive only breast milk up to six months had shot up to 40 percent by 2006, from less than 4 percent 20 years previously.

In New York state, there is a unique system to help distribute PDHM. The Siren Motorcycle club, a group of women motorcyclists, picks up donations from a milk depot and then delivers it to hospitals and to private homes. When I told my friend about these two programs, she said “Amazon could deliver donor milk for free!”. That’s another good idea.

There are still gaps in care across the state, across the country. Donor Human Milk should be available to every family who needs it, no matter the location or their income. Private insurance coverage for the cost of Donor Human Milk would be very helpful. Currently, MaineCare does cover that cost, thanks to the legislators who passed those bills. My colleagues and I are glad the legislature recognized the value of Donor Human Milk. We hope private insurers will follow suit soon.

Human Milk Banks are medical non-profit organizations. There are several around the globe. There are Human Milk Banks in North America, in Europe and there are also milk banks in Singapore, India, Iran and Vietnam.

Learn more about becoming a Human Milk Donor.  Learn more about receiving Human Donor Milk.

In the Downeast area, our Milk Depot in Ellsworth at Anchored Womens Health is a convenient drop-off site. Contact me to schedule a drop-off. Thank you for being a donor!  More milk donors means more Human Donor Milk will be available to more vulnerable babies.