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Donor breast milk

Read our guide below on donor milk and how we screen for breast milk donors.

You can also download a PDF version of this patient information by following the link on the right.

This information is based on ‘Guidelines for the establishment and operation of human milk banks in the UK’, United Kingdom Association for Milk Banking (UKAMB).

Which is the best milk for my baby?

Your own breast milk.

What is donor breast milk?

It’s breast milk expressed and donated by a mother that’s processed by a donor milk bank. It’s the next best milk to your own.

Why donor milk?

For babies who can receive donor milk, it’s a precious resource so we give it to babies who will benefit most. These include:

  • very premature babies (born before 30 weeks or weighing less than 1500g)
  • those who have had surgery on their intestines
  • babies with major heart abnormalities
  • babies who have a sibling who is receiving donor milk.

Babies can digest breast milk more easily than formula milk. It helps protect your baby from infection.

There’s evidence that breast milk reduces the risk of Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC), a condition that can affect the bowel of preterm infants and make babies very unwell.

If a mother can not provide any or enough of her own breast milk, donor breast milk is often better than formula milk. Donor breast milk still contains many of the protective factors (such as immunoglobulins) which help protect premature babies from infection. Formula milk, prepared from cow’s milk, does not contain any protective factors.

Is donor milk safe?

Donor mothers must meet strict health and lifestyle criteria and have blood screening tests. Donor mothers know how to express, collect and store their milk cleanly and safely. We also text donated milk for bacteria and pasteurise it (heat treatment) for added protection.

How do we screen donor mothers?

We screen for:

We do not accept donor mothers who:

  • smoke
  • drink more than small amounts of alcohol
  • drink excessive number of drinks containing caffeine per day (coffee, tea or cola)
  • take certain medications (traditional or herbal)
  • take drugs.

We also do not accept donors who do not meet NICE guidelines.

Find out more about our Neonatal Unit