Science continues to show that human breast milk provided to babies in the NICU setting is essential to reducing the morbidity rate of these little patients. When the mother is unable to provide or produce breast milk, clinicians turn to Milk Banks to meet the need of premature and sick babies.

Nancy Holtzman, RN, a Board Certified Lactation Consultant and VP of Clinical Content at Isis Parenting explains, “Premature babies have immature digestive and immune systems and are especially vulnerable to a potentially fatal gastrointestinal disease called NEC when given formula. Studies show feeding these micro-preemies exclusively with breast milk reduces the chances of this and other complications of prematurity.”

While medicine has proven the nutritional and medical need of breast milk for sick and premature babies, only select breast milk can be used, when a mother’s own milk is not available or suitable.Here in Massachusetts, potential volunteer donors are screened by the Mothers’ Milk Bank of New England. The Mothers’ Milk Bank of New England (MMBNE) is one of only 12 HMBANA-accredited human milk banks in North America, which collects, screens, and processes donated human breast milk. It is located in Newton, MA and women can drop of their breast milk or ship their breast milk to this location. The the MMBNE distributes the milk to one of twelve New England hospitals who are using donor milk as standard of care in their NICUs or nurseries. They are:

  • Boston Children’s Hospital
  • Boston Medical Center
  • Brigham and Women’s Hospital
  • Concord Hospital (Concord, NH)
  • Connecticut Children’s Medical Center
  • Elliot Hospital (Manchester, NH)
  • MassGeneral Hospital for Children
  • St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center
  • South Shore Hospital
  • Tufts Medical Center
  • UMass Memorial Medical Center
  • Wentworth Douglas Hospital (Dover, NH)

Donors undergo vigorous health screening and blood testings to ensure that the breast milk they donate is the safest it can be. Each donor fills out a detailed health history, confirmed by her physician, and has a blood test to assure that she is not carrying any diseases that pass through breast milk. Donor milk is also tested and pasteurized with heat so that any bacteria are eliminated and the majority of nutritional and immunologic components are maintained. According to MMBNE, in the forty years of modern milk banking, there has never been a case of a baby becoming sick from using donor milk through a HMBANA milk bank.

The process that a donor has to go through is a phone health screen similar to blood donor screenings. Donor mothers must be in good general health, a non-smoker, not regularly using medication or herbal supplements, be willing to donate at least 150 ounces of milk, and has a baby less than one year old. The donor cannot have had an organ or tissue transplant or a blood transfusion in the last twelve months, have more than two ounces or more of alcohol per day or have been in the United Kingdom for more than three months or in Europe for more than five years since 1980.

Then the donor completes a detailed form in which the donor’s physician and their baby’s physician wil confirm there are no concerns in donating the milk. The donor then has to have blood work to test for HIV, HTLV, Hepatitis B and C and syphilis, which can pass through human milk. Once accepted, the donor needs to follow guidelines in collecting and storing the milk for transport. All of this is part of the guidelines of HMBANA (Human Milk Banking Association of North America).

While this may seem daunting, it is a very quick process and any costs are assumed by MMBNE. And it does provide those mothers who have premature or sick infants with peace of mind when they are unable to provide the milk themselves.

Isis Parenting now offers a Milk Bank Depot in Hanover, MA. This new location provides potential donors on the South Shore with a more convenient and cost-effective way to donate their breast milk, and the hope is that by providing convenience, women who have wanted to donate, but transporting the milk was a barrier in donating, will now come forward as donors.

Because awareness of milk banks is increasing from both doctors and patients, the demand for human breast milk is at an all time high. So the Mothers’ Milk Bank of New England is asking healthy lactating mothers to consider applying to become a donor. If you are interested, you can learn more about it at If you are in a state other than Massachusetts, visit the Human Milk Banking Association of North America to contact the Milk Bank near you.

Milk Banks Map copy
Image from HMBANA. Blue markers are existing banks, pink are pending banks, and green are mentoring banks.

It is something you can do to make a big difference in the life of a little baby.

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  1. When I was nursing, I had a surplus when I weaned and I should have done it but when I investigated how to donate, it seemed really complicated. Complicated is not good when you have a baby and are sleep deprived.

    But now I wish I had.

  2. Charlene,

    If we may just add one more option to this great post (and thanks, by the way, for spreading the word on donating breast milk)

    I work for Helping Hands Milk Bank and Prolacta. Prolacta has several virtual milk banks and we provide breast milk-based nutritional products which are added to mother’s own milk, or donor breast milk from other milk banks (such as those mentioned above) to meet the nutritional needs of the NICU’s tiniest infants.

    Most babies born under 2.2 lbs need what is called a human milk fortifier, which is added to their feedings to increase their protein and calorie consumption. Donations help to provide an all human milk based diet to these fragile babies, which has been clinically proven, as you mentioned, to reduce risk of developing life threatening disease in these infants.

    We’d be happy to answer any questions.

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