Donated breast milk

Sometimes a mother is unable to make enough milk for her newborn baby. In this situation, mothers may prefer to feed their baby donated breast milk, rather than infant formula.

Breast milk banks 

Breast milk banks are mostly used in hospitals to help with feeding premature or sick babies in Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs). 

NICUs encourage and support mothers to breastfeed or express their own milk to feed their own infants. In situations where the mother's own milk is unavailable or insufficient for a baby's needs, donor milk can be an option. Most of the time, this involves a donor who has a baby of a similar age, and the hospital will have screened them for infectious diseases and lifestyle risks.

Research shows that premature babies get a great deal of benefit from their mothers’ breast milk. It also shows that donated, pasteurised (heat treated) breast milk can also help these vulnerable babies. 

If you find yourself in this situation, your health care professional will give you support and guidance on all the options available. How you choose to feed your baby is always up to you.

In Canterbury, the Canterbury District Health Board has set up a Human Donor Milk Bank. Donors undergo testing, and donated milk is pooled and pasteurised.

Donor breast milk 

More than 82% of women are exclusively breastfeeding their babies by the time they leave hospital. Mothers who are unable to breastfeed may prefer to feed their baby donated breast milk, rather than infant formula. People who use donated milk may get it from another breastfeeding mother who they know, or may connect with a mother through informal breast milk sharing groups. 

Breast milk has many benefits – but if you’re considering using donated breast milk for your baby, you should know about the potential risks.

  • Donated breast milk from somewhere other than a milk bank will not have been pasteurized (heat treated) to destroy bacteria and viruses.
  • As with donated blood, donor milk can contain viruses, bacteria and chemicals such as nicotine if the donor mother smokes cigarettes.
  • Donor milk can also contain traces of medicines that the donor mother takes, which can sometimes have an effect on your baby.

As a precaution, if you’re considering using donated breast milk, you should always check the health status of the donor and ensure the milk is collected in a safe and hygienic way. For advice, talk with your lead maternity carer or Well Child Tamariki Ora nurse. 

Learn more

Back to top