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Donor breast milk

Read our guide below for parents on the neonatal unit to find out more about donor breast milk. 

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'(UKAMB).

What’s the best milk for my baby?

Your own breast milk is the best milk for your baby.

What is donor breast milk?

It’s breast milk expressed and donated by a mother. A donor milk bank processes the milk so that it’s ready for your baby. It is the next best milk to your own.

Why donor milk?

For babies who can have donor milk, it’s a precious resource. It’s for babies who’ll benefit the most including:

  • infants less than 32 weeks gestation
  • infants with a birth weight of less than 1500g
  • babies that have had necrotising enterocolitis (NEC) until they’re well enough to transition back to their usual milk feeds
  • babies that have congenital abnormalities of the gut or affecting the gut
  • babies that have had gastrointestinal surgery.

Breast milk is more easily digested than formula milk and 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 you can’t provide any or enough of your own breast milk, donor breast milk is often the preferred alternative to formula milk. Donor breast milk still contains many of the protective factors (such as immunoglobulins) which help protect premature babies from infection. Formula milk doesn’t contain these protective factors because it’s prepared from cow’s milk.

Is donor milk safe?

Donor mothers must meet strict health and lifestyle criteria. They must have blood screening tests.

Donor mothers have been shown how to express, collect and store their milk cleanly and safely. Donated milk is tested for bacteria and pasteurised (heat treated) for added protection.

What screening takes place?

Donor mothers are screened for lifestyle reasons (see below).

They’re also screened for previous medical history which includes:

  • previous blood transfusion
  • chronic or acute medical conditions needing medication
  • family history of TB
  • family history of CJD, although there’s no evidence that CJD is transmitted through breast milk

Current screening includes:

  • infections and blood born infections including HIV 1 and 2 (viruses causing AIDS), hepatitis B and C
  • HTLV I and II (Human T-lymphotropic virus)
  • syphilis.

Mothers are excluded from donating milk if they don’tt meet the criteria set by NICE guidelines

What does lifestyle screening exclude?

A donor mother doesn’t:

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


  • Feeding and Nutrition in the Preterm infant, Elizabeth Jones/Caroline King (2005)
  • Feeding Issues in Preterm Infants, Archives of Disease In Childhood Fetal and Neonatal Edition 83F 215-218#
  • The Breastfeeding Network (BFN) Donating Breast milk and taking medication
  • National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) (2010) Donor Milk banks: the operation of donor milk bank services.

How can I help reduce healthcare associated infections?

Infection prevention and control is important to the wellbeing of our patients so we have procedures in place. Keeping your hands clean is an effective way of preventing the spread of infections.

You, and anyone visiting you, must use the hand sanitiser available at the entrance to every ward before coming in and after you leave. You may need to wash your hands at the sink using soap and water. Hand sanitisers are not suitable for dealing with patients who have symptoms of diarrhoea.

More help or advice

Contact our patient advice and liaison service (PALS) on 01296 316042 or

About our patient information

We aim to make the information as up to date and accurate as possible, but please note that it’s subject to change. You must always check specific advice on any concerns you may have with your doctor.

Contact us

Neonatal Unit
Oxford Milk Bank
Neonatal Unit

01296 316147

Oxford Milk Bank

01865 225507