How to Become a Human Milk Donor

By Carissa Hawkins, Communication Coordinator, Indiana Mothers’ Milk Bank

The information provided below is a general overview of how to become a donor for a Human Milk Banking Association of North America Milk Bank. While we’ve tried to be as accurate as possible, some HMBANA banks might have slightly different requirements. Please contact your closest HMBANA Milk Bank directly

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Carissa with her OWN milk donation!

Becoming a human milk donor is an incredibly valued and important role. Currently, there are 13 HMBANA milk banks serving all of North America and many of them have experienced donor shortages over the last few years as demand for donor milk has grown.  HMBANA banks provide pasteurized milk via physician prescription to some of the most vulnerable infants, where access to donor milk can sometimes literally be life-saving. HMBANA estimates they need 9 million ounces of donated breast milk to fill the needs of NICU babies in the US alone. For many women, the path to donating may seem intimidating but, in reality, by following a few simple steps, we can get you on your way quickly!

Step #1: Contact your closest HMBANA Milk Bank for pre-screening.

For most HMBANA Milk Banks, calling them by phone is the fastest way to start the pre-screening that is required for donors. We pre-screen potential donors to make sure that the donor human milk we provide is free of substances that could compromise the health of the critical babies we serve and assists us in processing milk in the most efficient manner possible. You will connect with the Donor Mother Coordinator who will ask you a number of questions such as:

  • How old is your baby?
  • Was he or she born before 36 weeks gestation?
  • Are you donating milk collected prior to contacting the milk bank?
  • Since you started storing your milk, have you taken or are you currently taking any prescribed or over-the-counter medications (used regularly or occasionally) including birth control, allergy medications, or alternative treatments?
  • Are you willing to have a simple blood test, at the milk bank’s expense?
  • Do you use nicotine products?
  • Do you use illegal drugs?
  • Can you donate at least 100 ounces or more? (Volume requirements vary by Milk Bank.)

A number of Milk Banks also have pre-screening on their website. You can fill out the questionnaire online at your convenience.

Step #2: Fill Out Appropriate Paperwork

Your conversation with the Donor Mother Coordinator helps us to determine if you meet the Donor Selection Criteria. We want to make sure that both you and your baby are healthy enough to take on the task of donation. This paperwork needs to be filled out and returned to the Milk Bank. Some banks also have the option of filling out these forms online. Included in your packet will be:

  • A consent form for you to sign and return to the milk bank.
  • A Donor Interview and Lifestyle Questionnaire to fill out and return.
  • A Healthcare Provider Release for you to forward to your OB/GYN.
  • A Healthcare Provider Release for you to forward to your Pediatrician
  • Blood Testing Information
  • Collecting and Storage Guidelines
  • Medication and Lifestyle Guidelines

Step #3: Have a Simple Blood Test

The milk bank will provide you with the information necessary to have your blood drawn. You will receive a form to take to your local lab or a kit that can be shipped to have your blood drawn by your health care provider. All HMBANA Milk Banks will cover the cost of this blood draw and it is a similar experience as to what you had while pregnant. The results of your blood testing will be forwarded directly to the Milk Bank. HMBANA Milk Banks test for the following:

  • HIV 1, 2 & O
  • Hepatitis B & C
  • HTLV I & II (Human T-lymphotropic virus)
  • Syphillis

Step #4: Review and Approval

After all of your paperwork and blood testing results are returned to the Milk Bank, your file will be submitted to the Clinical Coordinator for review and approval. You will then be contacted by the Donor Mother Coordinator, who will give you a donor number and provide you with options for transporting your milk to the Milk Bank.

Step #5: Send Us Your Milk!

There are a number ways that donors get their milk to us. Here are some of our options. Ask at your local Milk Bank for specific methods that they use:

  • Milk Pick Up – If you are local to the Milk Bank, staff are occasionally available to come to your home to pick up your milk.
  • Milk Drop Off – If you are within driving distance of a HMBANA Milk Bank, you can come by our office during our business hours and deliver your milk to us yourself!
  • Milk Depot – Many Milk Banks have convenient drop off locations. These locations are operated by volunteer staff who will take care of the packing and shipping of your milk to the Milk Bank.
  • Shipping – If none of the other options are available to you, the Milk Bank will ship you a cooler for you to fill with your milk and 5 lbs of dry ice. It will also include an overnight return label and instructions on how to pack the box so that your milk arrives safe and sound. Dry ice can be purchased at some grocery stores or your local Praxair or Home City Ice location. Some ice cream shops and hospital laboratories sell dry ice as well. Make sure you forward your dry ice receipt to the Milk Bank for reimbursement.
Carissa with her OWN milk donation!

Carissa with her OWN milk donation!

Step #6: Feel Fantastic About What You’ve Done!

Your hard work pumping is paying off in the lives of babies you will probably never meet. You can take pride in your donation and your commitment to health babies and their families. 

Step #7: Share Your Story!

We’d love to connect with you by Facebook and hear about your HMBANA donation experience. And, we’re suckers for cute donor baby photos, too!

Carissa Hawkins Headshot- USEAbout Carissa Hawkins, Communications Coordinator:  Everyone said Motherhood would change me. I knew they were right, I just didn’t anticipate a career change in addition to all the other capacities I have gained after having my first child. I chose to breastfeed and quickly found that I was making more milk then my babe would use, so I donated. My role at Indiana Mother’s Milk Bank is all things marketing and communications. I have a Bachelors Degree in Communication Studies and have worked in care coordinator since graduating. I am so thankful to be using my skills for such a worthy population. Aside from spending time with my baby girl and biking, I volunteer with the Junior League of Indianapolis. Feel free to contact me: chawkins@immb.org.

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19 Responses to How to Become a Human Milk Donor

  1. ECBrooks 18 June 2013 at 11:54 #

    Fantastic blog. This explains the entire process as easy as — well — 1-2-3-4-5! Thanks for all you do, Carissa, and thanks to HMBANA for their incredible service to mothers, babies and families in need.

  2. margot Mann 18 June 2013 at 12:13 #

    This is very helpful to those wanting to share their ‘wealth’. Thank you!

  3. Margot Mann 18 June 2013 at 12:17 #
  4. Stephanie 18 June 2013 at 14:02 #

    I’m going through the screening process right now to donate…pumping up a storm over here will share my experience when I donate 🙂

  5. Kelly (New Leaf Wellness) 18 June 2013 at 15:00 #

    Thank you for sharing. This post really breaks down the process and makes it seem less overwhelming than I thought it would be. Thanks!

  6. jessica s 18 June 2013 at 19:55 #

    As soon as i get my double electric next month I’m going to start pumping like a mad woman so i can donate. 🙂

  7. kori novak 18 June 2013 at 22:50 #

    is there a way to stimulet breast milk if not pregnant? i breastfed twice, and loved it…i’m sure i’d be
    willing to produce for this cause

    • Carissa Hawkins 19 June 2013 at 04:17 #

      Hi Kori, Thanks for the question! While we appriciate the willingness of potential donors who have offered to induce lactation, our guidelines state that a donor needs to have given birth within the last 12 months.

      Thank you for your generous offer!

  8. Mothers' Milk Bank of North Texas 19 June 2013 at 11:13 #

    Thank you for sharing about the Donor Process! We love our donor moms, and at Mothers’ Milk Bank of North Texas we are always seeking more donors to give the lifesaving gift of donor human milk to fragile babies. We’d be happy to answer any questions about donating, or start the donor process with you! You can visit our blog: texasbreastfeeding.org for more information.

  9. Katie L 20 June 2013 at 22:46 #

    I think the heart of this is beautiful and it’s a grand idea. The only thing that makes me sad about all of this is the fact that the milk is pasteurized. What a terrible waste! To take nature’s perfect milk and ruin it and kill all the awesome nutrients by unnecessary pasteurization is just a crying shame. Milk that is immediately frozen and then soon after transferred to a deep freezer need never undergo such a tragic process. So many little bellies with potential gas, rashes and other digestion issues. Can a newborn even digest milk that is pasteurized? I’d love to see a study done on this to see if they are more colicky than other babies. This can definitely be improved upon. However, God bless the heart of this idea and wanting to help.

  10. Pauline Sakamoto 24 June 2013 at 11:47 #

    Hi Katie L. Breast milk is the most natural and nutritious way of feeding babies. The HMBANA milk banks mission is to support women to breastfeed their own babies as well as supply donor milk. We know that Mom and baby have a wonderful relationship that improves growth and protection for both! Why do we have to pasteurize the milk? Because it is the expression of milk and the way bacteria finds its way into expressed milk is the problem. Typically, the bacteria is harmless. However, we have gotten breastmilk that harbors pathogenic bacteria. As you know, babies that are healthy and getting mommy’s milk, are probably getting immunity from the breastmilk against those pathogenic bacteria. We supply babies that are the most fragile in the NICU. Their immature systems cannot distinguish good and bad bacteria therefore we resort to pasteurizing the harmful bacteria out. The pasteurization does no harm to the milk nutritionally. It may decrease the amount of immunity in the milk, however, there is enough to protect the baby against necrotizing enterocolitis and protect them from respiratory and other infections. Studies have shown that donor milk is a major improvement over formula feeding, so babies do beautifully on donor milk. Keep the milk coming! Mothers’ Milk Bank, San Jose, CA

  11. Kathy 1 August 2013 at 11:27 #

    Can a woman be pre-screened while pregnant (say, 3rd trimester), then begin to donate once the baby is born, or does she need to wait until after the birth to go through the process?

    How long does the approval process typically take?

    I saw above that the donor needs to have given birth in the past 12 months; hypothetically, though, if a woman begins to donate when the baby is 3 m/o, and then continues to pump and donate for several months, will she be stopped from donating once the baby is 12 m/o, or will she be allowed to continue to donate, if she chooses?

    • IMMB (@IndyMilkBank) 6 August 2013 at 08:15 #

      Hi Kathy!

      Thanks for the question. Donors are pre-screened after the birth of their child and their milk supply is well established. We need to ensure that the baby is growing well and won’t need the milk that mom intends to donate.

      The approval process can be very quick, if needed. Once the forms are filled out, it’s a simple blood draw and then waiting for the results that can take the most time.

      Donors are welcome to donate milk pumped up to their child’s first birthday. HMBANA milk banks supply milk to very small fragile infants and therefore needs milk that is intended for infants. Milk pumped after age one is supporting the growth and development of a toddler. That is why there is a cut off at age one. From a timing perspective, it is possible to donate milk that has been pumped after your child turns one as we can accept milk that has been stored for 6 months.

      Hope this helps! Carissa

      • Kathy 6 August 2013 at 20:31 #

        Ok, thanks. I’m not pregnant nor even planning on it, but I do have a birth-related blog and f/b page and try to promote milk-sharing whenever possible. As such, I’ve had people ask me questions like I’ve asked above, and didn’t know the answers; now I will. 🙂

        With both my pregnancies, I had an issue with oversupply; donating milk to a friend with an adopted baby was actually a blessing to me (my first day I think I pumped 8 oz., and at my top, I was pumping 25 oz. per day, in addition to exclusively breastfeeding my own baby, so you can see making sure my baby was getting enough wasn’t really an issue). I’m sure there are others who always have oversupply, or perhaps are pumping in memory of a lost baby, so I was thinking that in some cases, it might be practical to “pre-qualify” some women so that milk banks could get milk from new mothers, esp. since the milk would be closest to “newborn milk”.

  12. alenka123 20 November 2017 at 06:50 #

    I found some useful information about the lactation without pregnancy and its stimulation. If you are interested in it, you may read it here – http://motherhow.com/lactation-without-pregnancy/

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