Milk Banking FAQs

Why do we do this work?

Human milk fights infection while providing ideal nutrition. In the initial hours and days of life, human milk’s primary role is immunological. Nutrition is secondary.

Recent research is proving that the use of pasteurized donor human milk supports moms ultimately breastfeeding their own babies.

Why collect human milk?

Neonatologists are concerned about preventing necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a disease that attacks the intestinal tract, damaging or destroying it, and requiring surgery to repair or remove the intestines. Emergency surgery on a preterm infant is difficult and dangerous. Mother’s milk makes a difference in how well these tiny babies do after birth because it reduces the incidence of NEC, and it helps to repair the intestines should they become infected. Human milk fights infection while providing ideal nutrition.


  • 1.5% of preterm infants fed human milk acquire NEC
  • 10-17% of preterm infants fed formula acquire NEC
  • Of those babies who acquire NEC, many die or develop lifelong complications of the illness

Is donor human milk safe?

Yes. The Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast follows strict screening, processing, and dispensing guidelines established by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) to ensure the safety of donor human milk. These guidelines have been established in consultation with the Centers for Disease Control, the Food and Drug Administration, and the blood and tissue banking industries. Potential donors provide medical and lifestyle histories, and undergo blood tests, similar to the screening process used at blood banks. Donated milk is then pooled and pasteurized to kill bacteria or viruses. Before the pasteurized milk is dispensed, bacteriological testing is done to ensure its safety.

Why can’t a mother provide milk for her own baby?

A mother may not be able to meet her baby’s needs:

  • in many cases a mother simply needs “bridge” milk. PDHM that tides the baby over until the mother’s milk supply can be established enough to fully sustain her infant’s growth and developmental needs.
  • because of premature delivery, a mother’s milk supply may be delayed or not become established enough to provide sufficient milk for her child.
  • if she is pumping for twins or triplets and cannot provide enough.
  • due to the stress of having a hospitalized, ill infant whom she cannot hold or directly breastfeed.
  • if she requires medications that may pass into breast milk and are harmful to the infant.
  • if she has a chronic infection such as HIV or HTLV, or another medical condition that precludes breastfeeding.
  • if she has a breast infection that temporarily affects her milk production.
  • if she has had breast surgery that prevents or inhibits adequate lactation

Who receives donor milk?

Pasteurized donor human milk (PDHM) is dispensed by prescription only. The highest-priority recipients are premature and ill hospitalized infants. Common reasons for prescribing donor milk include:

  • Preterm birth
  • Failure to thrive
  • Malabsorption syndromes
  • Allergies
  • Feeding/formula intolerance
  • Immunologic deficiencies
  • Post-operative nutrition
  • Infectious diseases

How is donor milk processed?

Frozen donor milk is thawed, some samples are cultured, pooled and poured into bottles, then pasteurized at 62.5 C in a shaking water bath or automatic pasteurizer. Pasteurized milk is quick-cooled, then frozen at -20’C. Microbiological cultures are obtained by an independent laboratory from each batch of milk after pasteurization. This is done to verify that no heat-resistant pathogens are present before pasteurization, and that there is zero growth of bacteria after the heating process.

Is milk banking cost-effective?

Yes! Research shows that necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), which donor human milk can help prevent, will increase a baby’s length of hospital stay by two weeks at an additional cost of $128,000 to $238,000. In addition, reductions in other complications, such as sepsis, through the use of donor human milk instead of formula means that the baby goes home sooner with fewer medical issues – and stays healthier.

Is there a professional organization for milk banks?

Yes. The Mothers’ Milk Bank Northeast is one of 14 milk banks which are members of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA). HMBANA is a multidisciplinary group of health care providers that promotes, protects, and supports donor milk banking. It is the only professional membership association for milk banks in Canada, Mexico, and the United States, and sets the standards and guidelines for donor milk banking in those areas.

Where can I find out more about milk banking?

Learn more about milk banking at the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) site.