Published on 17th December 2020

Donated milk is indispensable when it comes to neonatal care. Not only does it act as the best possible substitute when mother’s milk isn’t available, but it also plays a crucial role in the development and immunity-boosting essentials for a newborn – especially if an infant is born prematurely. Yet, when it comes to milk banking, donation, and the uses for donor breastmilk, there are lots of myths and misconceptions that need clearing up. Read below as we separate fact from fiction for this life-saving service.

MYTH: Pasteurizing milk destroys all the “good stuff” 

There’s been a lot of talk around the impact of pasteurization on human milk’s “miracle” properties. The Holder Pasteurization method, used by organizations like HMBANA, impacts a small facet of the biological activity of the milk, but most of the compounds unique to human milk are retained either completely or partially. 

Studies have shown that Human Milk Oligosaccharides (HMOs) that aid with gut development and pathogen binding are retained, and partial remnants of antibodies and antimicrobial proteins also stay put. Long story short, donor milk is the next best thing to raw milk. 

MYTH: Sharing unscreened milk is just like receiving donor milk  

We’re aware that throughout time, mothers from many different cultures have informally shared their breastmilk and wet nursed among family members and friends. However, the difference between milk banks and informal sharing are the risks between the two, with milk banks ensuring pasteurized, screened donor milk is always safe for baby. 

The risks of informal sharing breastmilk can include, but aren’t limited to: 

  • Transmission of certain infections, like bacteria or viruses, some of which may be found in milk expressed by asymptomatic women

  • Medicines or other drugs 

  • Environmental contaminants that come from unhygienic storage and mishandling of unprocessed milk 

MYTH: To be considered a “good donor”, you have to donate large volumes of milk 

Like the motto of many milk banking organizations: ‘Every Drop Counts.’ Once a mother is recruited to be a donor, their breastmilk will be valued, treated with care, and milk banks will do everything in their power to ensure it is used wherever possible. The caveat here, however, is that it isn’t economically viable for milk banks to go through the expensive process of recruitment screening and blood tests if a mother is only able to supply a small amount of milk. That’s why minimum donation amounts are in place with some milk banks, asking donors to commit to specific volumes – typically an amount that can be easily achieved by expressing regularly and donating for approximately one month. 

MYTH: If there isn’t a milk bank nearby, I can’t receive a donation 

While critically ill infants are the first priority for milk banks, (such as infants who require care in a NICU), when adequate donations are available, milk banks provide milk for many different use cases. Some of these include for mothers who are ill or deceased, toddlers with medical conditions, and even adults. It’s important to note that donor milk is dispensed via a physician’s prescription, wherever you may be. Ultimately, the more regular donors that milk banks have the means to recruit, the better equipped they are to meet the needs of all who could benefit from donor milk. 

Donate and find out more 

Support milk banks this December 

Read about the Human Milk Banking Association of North America

Read about the Human Milk Foundation 

Find out about donating your breastmilk in the UK 

Find out about donating your breastmilk in the US