Breast Milk Donation Q&A

This week has been World Breastfeeding Week and this month is Breast Feeding Awareness month. Today I want to share with you information I received during a Q&A session with Dixie Whetsell, a board member for the Northwest Mothers’ Milk Bank (NWMMB), the newest milk bank to be opening soon in Portland. If you live in Portland or Seattle, please remember you can support the NWMMB by viewing the documentary Donor Milk tonight or tomorrow.

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Xander loves his breast milk!

Breast Milk Donation Q&A

Anything in italics are my questions and comments/input. All photos are images I captured myself and not affiliated with HMBANA or NWMMB. I hope you enjoy learning about this process because I feel like it isn’t discussed!

I’ve heard that many milk banks are closing, why is that and how many are left across America?

I am not aware of donor milk banks that have closed recently. Currently, there are efforts to open additional donor milk banks in different parts of US and Canada. To see a listing and locations for all not-for-profit donor milk banks in the US and Canada, you can visit the website for the Human Milk Banking Association of North American (HMBANA) (<—wonderful visual). This is the professional membership association for not-for-profit donor milk banks in the US, Canada, and Mexico. They set standards and guidelines for donor milk banking in those areas.

Can you describe the internal screening process in order to become a milk donor?

The donate milk section of the HMBANA website will describe the process. (I went through a short telephone interview, followed by a packet of paperwork. I had to get my midwife to sign off on my health and Xander’s pediatrician sign off on his. Next up is my blood work! )

What are the three main reasons why you wouldn’t be eligible to donate milk?

Pauline Sakamoto, Executive Director of the San Jose Mothers’ Milk Bank, estimates that there are the most common reasons why a mother would not be eligible to donate milk:

  • Medication use
  • Not enough milk to meet the donor requirement of 100 oz (my bank requires 200-300 oz)
  • Bacterial contamination of donated milk


Where will the donor’s milk be used and who/what gets preference for the milk?

The HMBANA website provides great information about who we serve and why. When there is a shortage of donor milk, HMBANA provides guidelines for the member donor milk banks about how to prioritize the donor milk that is available. Basically, the sickest, most fragile infants/children are at the top of the priority list because donor milk is life-saving for them. Healthy infants that have been adopted, or have a mother who cannot provide enough milk for them would be at the bottom of the priority list. Shortages do occur periodically. HMBANA’s goal is to provide donor milk for all those that have a medical need for it.

Will most banks accept high lipase milk?

Yes. Donor milk is not tested for lipase levels, and since donor milk is typically pooled (milk from 3-5 mothers is mixed together) in batches when it is processed, this would not be a problem.

Do you have any statistics about how many ounces of milk get donated each year?

  • 2000: 400,000+
  • 2005: 745,000+
  • 2010: 1,858,000+
  • 2011: 2,182,000+

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How many different donors’ milk will feed 1 baby in need?

This is a hard question to answer because it depends on how much donor milk a baby needs and how long the donor milk needs to be provided. Some premature infants need less than 1 oz because they are getting very small amounts of milk each feeding, and most mothers are able to begin producing enough milk for their babies. However, some infants/children either need larger volumes of donor milk, or need it over a longer period of time. Since one batch of donor milk is pooled from 3-5 donors, that would be the minimum.

How long is milk stored at the bank before use?

There is such a great need for donor milk, it usually is processed and distributed within a few weeks of being received by a donor milk bank.

I’m fascinated by this information and hope you enjoyed learning about this process as well. Dixie is kind enough to answer any other questions I might have, so if you have any, please let me know and I will ask her! I will have an upcoming post with more information about why milk donation was right for me and my family. Please let me know if you have any questions about that as well!


  1. 1

    Great info! If I had enough to donate, I totally would!

  2. 2

    Really interesting! I’d love to hear, well read, about the whole process. I have a good 100+ ounces in my freezer that I think I could donate in the next few months.

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