Supplement Options: Donor Breastmilk, Milk Banks, and Formula

This past week, we released one of my most favorite episodes on The Boob Group: Low Milk Supply: Donor Milk, Milk Banks, and Formula.  I had the esteemed pleasure of interviewing Amber McCann, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, fierce supporter of all things mothering, and dear friend.  I wanted to know what options were out there for mothers who needed to supplement their babies, as well as the pros and cons of each.

I pulled out the most salient points for this blog article, but you can click here to listen to the Boob Group episode in its entirety: Low Milk Supply: Donor Milk, Milk Banks, and Formula.


What are your options if you need to supplement your baby?

When feeding an infant, the World Health Organization lists a hierarchy:

  • Milk taken directly from the mother’s breast
  • Expressed milk from baby’s mother
  • Expressed milk from another mother (wet nurse, donor milk, milk from a milk bank, etc.)
  • Breastmilk substitute (formula)


Is it safe to offer your baby another woman’s breastmilk?

Making the decision as to what to feed your baby should never be taken lightly.  It is important when one is considering offering donor breastmilk to their baby to balance the risks and benefits.  You should always consider asking the potential donor mom for a copy of her prenatal blood work to check for sexually transmitted diseases and other potential pathogens.  It is also important to ask questions about lifestyle choices, such as alcohol use, smoking, diet, medication use, etc.  Eats on Feets has a Resource Guide with great lists of questions for both the donor and recipient of expressed breastmilk, as well as an extensive list of health considerations.


What are the main benefits of using donor milk?


What concerns may arise when using donor milk?

  • A number of pathogens enter into human milk if a mother is infected, however few diseases can be transmitted through human milk, itself. 
  • The main diseases that cause concerns are HTLVHIV, and CMV.  CMV is typically only a challenge for premature infants.  Fortunately, HTLV can be deactivated by freezing and HIV by flash heating.


Where can a mother find someone to donate milk?

  • Start with your own social group.  If you have friends or friend of friends who are breastfeeding, there is always a chance that they or someone they know has an excess supply in their freezer or would be willing to pump for you, if they knew there was a need.  All you have to do is ask!
  • Informal milk groups, such as Eats on Feets and Human Milk for Human Babies
  • Milk Banks


What are milk banks?

Milk banks are non-profit organizations where breastfeeding moms can donate breastmilk, should they fit the milk bank’s criteria.  The Human Milk Banking Association of North America requires that their donors be in good health, not regularly on most medications or herbal supplements, willing to undergo additional blood testing, and be willing to donate at least 100 oz.  Donated human milk is pasteurized and then either sold to hospitals to feed critically ill babies or to families who purchase directly from the milk bank. 


How should I choose between donor milk, milk from a milk bank, or formula?

This is such a hard decision and definitely not one to take lightly!  What is most important is to look at your needs, your baby’s needs, what you feel most comfortable supplementing with, and what’s the best choice for your family.  So, sit down, research all of your options, and choose with your heart and knowledge. 


As a follow up to this article, several moms submitted stories about their experiences using donor milk or donating to a friend or milk bank.  Stay tuned, as we share them during the rest of the week!

If you have a story about using donor milk or donating breastmilk to a friend or milk bank, and you want to share it with our readers, please email it to me at


Did you have to supplement your baby with donor milk, milk from a milk bank, or formula? 

How did you choose which supplement to use?

Update on 2013-01-24 15:36 by Robin

Here's your Call to Action:

Too many breastfeeding mothers have no idea that human milk sharing is an option and we want to change that!

If you are a breastfeeding mother and have used donor milk or have donated your own milk, we would love to hear your story!  Other breastfeeding moms need your support!  Just knowing that someone else out there went through a similar experience.... well, that can make all of the difference in how a mother views her own breastfeeding experience!  Your stories are beyond powerful!  They need to be heard!

If you would like to have your stories posted on our website, as well as The Boob Group's website, please send your story to  

We will begin posting your stories as soon as we receive them!