Ask the Expert Recap: Mother's Milk Bank

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We recently welcomed Lenna Gregory of Mother's Milk Bank, whose mission is to provide safe, screened donor human milk to the most fragile of infants in neonatal intensive care nurseries across the country. She answered questions about Mother's Milk Bank and the life saving services they provide... and how Surrogacy Learning Center community members can get involved.

Every member who submitted a question in this activity was entered to win a $50 Amazon gift card, and we're pleased to announce that @Graves_cassidy is the winner of this random draw! 


Question: I am becoming a new surrogate and I have breast fed both my two children until 11 months of age. I am not sure yet if the parent will want breastmilk, they mentioned something about the colostrum is something they're interested in. I was wondering, if its possible, if I'm able to help out another mom for 3-6 months if they're wanting breastmilk. -

LG:  Thank you for your question! Donors are eligible up to 18 months postpartum, as long as you are expressing milk at least four times in 24 hours. We have surrogate donors who provide milk for the baby for a while, and then continue to pump for donation. It is a very personal decision, based on how pumping fits into your lifestyle. We are not able to facilitate donations between individuals. Most of our milk is distributed to hospitals -- we serve over 120 hospitals and birth centers across the country -- and they have priority for orders. The amazing thing about that is your milk would help potentially dozens of families in many places!

Questions: 1) Are donors compensated for their milk? 2) Are recipients charged for the milk? 3) What are the requirements to be a donor? - @Mlmeier

LG: Thank you for your questions!

1) We, along with our sister HMBANA milk banks, do not compensate donors. Our donors share their excess milk out of a desire to support families who do not have enough of their own milk.

2) There is a processing fee for the milk that covers the costs of screening donors and pasteurizing, testing, and dispensing the milk. About 80% of our milk is distributed to hospitals, so there is no direct charge to the patient as the cost is included in the overall hospital stay. We are seeing an increase in insurance coverage for babies with a medical need for human milk, but that is still rare. Some families do pay out-of-pocket for milk, and the average amount of milk to a healthy outpatient baby to bridge until mom's own milk is available costs $100 or less. We offer financial support to families if needed.

3) Our donors are healthy, non-smoking women who have more milk than their baby needs. We have limits and restrictions on medications and supplements that are compatible with donation, as well as limits on things like alcohol and caffeine. Our guidelines for storage are the same as those typically given to parents who are pumping for a baby in the hospital, which include thorough cleaning of pump parts and freezing milk within 3 days of expression.

Question: A woman may be considering donating but unsure if she can or should. Does a milk bank typically look for certain characteristics in their donators? Is there something about a woman's medical or obstetrical history that would disqualify her? - @Kristina F.

LG: Thanks for your questions, Kristina! Our donors are healthy, non-smoking women who have more milk than their baby needs. They need to be willing to follow our storage guidelines (thorough cleaning of pump parts, milk stored in milk storage bags and frozen within 3 days of expression) and willing to keep us informed of their health, medications, and supplements. Because of the population of fragile babies that receive our milk, many medications that are generally safe for breastfeeding are not compatible with donation, so that may disqualify a donor. However, often, it is only a temporary deferral. Our Donor Relations team is always ready to discuss specific issues. We know that every delivery can be different, so we always do our screening post-delivery to accommodate anything that arises during labor and immediately postpartum.

Question: If for some reason a surrogate changes her mind about wanting to pump after the first 150oz of donations … what is the process to stop donating and what support do you have for the process of drying up/ stoping pumping ? Also if IPs do want colostrum pumping could a Surrogate still donate after that ? - @lesliekayw

LG: Great questions! We always want donation to be a good fit, so donors are free to stop at any time. We have an IBCLC and several lactation counselors and educators on staff to help with the weaning process (or any other lactation questions, for that matter!).

We always want the baby to get as much milk as needed or wanted by their parents, and then the surrogate can donate extra or choose to pump after baby's needs are met. We know that every situation is unique, and we work to be as flexible as possible, within our guidelines, of course.

Question: Hello! I have donated milk to friends before but haven’t ever donated it to the Mothers Milk Bank! What is the best way to package it when it is going to be donated? - @Graves_cassidy

LG:  Thank you for your question! Milk needs to be packaged in containers designed for breastmilk storage -- storage bags or bottles. We prefer only one pumping session per container, but different sessions can be combined (as in a 9am pumping + a 3 pm pumping) as long as the milk is all chilled before combining, and warm milk is not mixed with chilled milk. Milk should be frozen within 3 days of pumping. Every bag needs to be labeled with the date it was pumped. We can take milk that has been frozen for up to 8 months, and up to 10 months in some cases.

It is also important to use good cleaning habits for our fragile recipients -- pump parts (or drip milk collection devices) should be washed in warm, soapy water between uses.

Question: I would be interested in donating milk but am wondering about the qualifications. Could you please explain those to me? I am also curious, how is milk stored and transported? Thank you! - @larissalien

LG: Thank you for your questions! We are looking for healthy, non-smoking women who are using clean milk collection techniques. Because we serve a population of premature and often medically fragile babies, many medications and herbs that are safe for breastfeeding do have limits and restrictions with donation. Our limit for supplements is no more than 2000% of the DV. We also follow blood-banking guidelines, which align with many of the things you are screened for as a potential surrogate.

We accept only frozen milk, and we transport it to our milk bank in a few ways. Local donors can drop off at our facility in Arvada, CO. We also have over 60 Donation Outreach Centers in 12 states -- they are hospitals, clinics and other partners that have a freezer dedicated for storage of human milk and staff that take the donations from approved donors and then prepare it for shipment to the milk bank. We can also arrange to ship milk directly from a donor's home. We provide insulated shipping boxes and a pre-paid FedEx label, and FedEx picks up the box from your doorstep and delivers it back to us by overnight service.

We try to make it as easy as we can for you to get your milk to us safely!

Thanks to everyone who submitted a question to @LennaGregoryMMB in this activity. Watch for another Ask the Expert Q&A in upcoming weeks.