Milk Donor FAQs
Women who have decided to breastfeed will how important breastmilk is for babies. It is especially important for babies who are sick or premature. Giving these babies breastmilk increases their chances of survival and helps their long-term development. Sometimes mothers of these tiny babies cannot feed them because they are ill themselves, or under too much stress to produce enough milk. Milk banks recruit breastfeeding mothers to donate some of their surplus breastmilk or to regularly express milk for the bank. Donors are not paid for their milk.
If I’m accepted as a milk donor – what then?
FAQ Answer
Can any breastfeeding mother be a milk donor?

Milk banks welcome enquiries from any woman who already has stored milk or who wishes to become a regular donor and is breastfeeding or planning to breastfeed, however, although a mother’s milk is ideal for her own baby, extra care needs to be taken with tiny or sick babies. Milk banks cannot accept milk from women who smoke or use illegal drugs and all potential donors have to be tested for infections that may be passed on through the milk. You cannot donate breastmilk if you have been advised by a healthcare professional that you are at increased risk of vCJD (Creutzfeld Jakob Disease). In addition, you may not be able to donate if you have received a blood transfusion or certain other blood based products although the time limits for this can vary between milk banks depending on where they are in the UK and which types of tests are used for the blood checks. The time scale is likely to be if this happened within the past 4 – 6 months. Finally, sometimes, drugs which are perfectly safe for you take when breastfeeding your own baby can pass sufficiently into your milk to be unsafe for premature babies, whose low bodyweight may be far more affected by even tiny amounts of a drug than a healthy term baby. These drugs can also adversely interact with the medications that the premature baby is being given. For more information, please visit our "Medication and Donating Breastmilk" page.

Do I need to live near a Milk Bank?

Different milk banks have different policies about how far they will travel to collect donated milk and a few may not collect at all and rely on donors delivering their milk. Your nearest milk bank will be able to tell you if you are too far away to make becoming a donor impractical. If you are unable to become a donor for any reason but would like to support the work of the UK Association for Milk Banking, we would be extremely grateful.

How much milk do milk banks expect from donors?

The amount of milk collected from each donor varies from woman to woman and from week to week. Most useful is a regular supply of small amounts although milk banks are also happy to take larger one-off donations. Every drop of milk is valuable and small or sick babies benefit from even the smallest quantities of breastmilk. Premature babies will often start with less than 20mls per day. One ounce of milk will feed a tiny premature baby for 1 ½ days. The law of supply and demand ensures that a donor’s own baby will not go short of milk and some mothers even find that expressing helps to give them a better supply of milk for their own babies.

Donor health and lifestyle

If you are interested in becoming a donor, please contact your local milk bank. Staff there will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

The milk bank will need to know that you are in generally good health and most will ask that your baby is under 6 months of age when you start donating. You may continue to donate when your baby is older than this.

Some of the questions that you may be asked are:

Do you have any medical condition?
Do you routinely take any medicines including herbal remedies?
Answering yes to these questions above does not mean that you cannot be a donor, but the milk bank staff may want to talk further to you.

Do you smoke or use illegal drugs?
Do you routinely drink more than 1-2 units of alcohol once or twice a week?
Have you tested positive for HIV 1 or 2, Hepatitis B or C, HTLV l or ll or syphilis?(The milk bank will arrange for a sample of blood to be taken and tested for infections, which might be passed on through your milk.)
If you answer yes to any of these questions above the milk bank will not be able to accept your milk. However, there are many other ways that you can help.

Can I use the blood tests taken in pregnancy?

The NICE guideline for milk banks (available here: recommends that blood tests should be done on milk donors at the time they become a donor. This is to ensure that the most up to date screening is available to the milk bank. In addition pregnancy tests don’t include Hepatitis C or HTLV 1&2 which are required for breastmilk donors. These are infections which mothers can have and be unaware of as it can take a long time before symptoms appear.

I have been using nicotine patches since I stopped smoking. Can I donate breastmilk?

If you smoke, you are not able to donate breastmilk to a milk bank. Stopping smoking but using nicotine replacement in the form of gum or patches also means you will not be able to donate because the nicotine that gets into your blood stream will transfer into your breastmilk and this could potentially be harmful for premature or sick babies. If you have stopped smoking – you have done one of the best things you could do for your baby and it is much better that you stay off cigarettes but get some nicotine in other ways if it helps you. You should definitely continue breastfeeding! If you have a premature or sick baby in hospital and you are using nicotine replacement – let the nurses or doctors know. You will be able to continue to express your milk and feed it to your baby and you can breastfeed when your baby is big enough. Smoking cigarettes can reduce your milk supply so using nicotine replacement, which delivers less nicotine into your blood stream, is better for not only you but your ongoing milk supply.

I’ve stopped smoking! How long do I need to wait before I can become a milk donor?

In the NHS an ex smoker is designated as having successfully quit after 6 weeks and this can be used for the purposes of donating breastmilk to a milk bank. If you do have a relapse, even the odd cigarette, please don’t donate your milk and let the milk bank know the reason. You should continue to breastfeed your own baby though as using formula would be worse for your baby than stopping breastfeeding. The bar on smoking is because the nicotine and other nasties from cigarette smoke that are circulating in your blood get into your breastmilk and although it is much better for a mum’s own baby that she breastfeed than feed formula even if (or especially if) her baby is premature, Milk Banks can choose to only accept nicotine-free milk for the premature and sick babies they feed. So you can’t donate if you are taking nicotine replacement either. However Milk Banks should be excluding smokers, not ex smokers. If you are sure you definitely won’t be smoking as long as you are donating the milk that is fine. If you do start again – then don’t donate any milk! Because of the high cost of setting up donors, meaning that milk banks ideally need each donor to supply as much milk as they can, if you are not sure that you are now a non-smoker, it may be worth waiting a little to see how you go. On the other hand, becoming a donor may give you the incentive you need to stay away!

My baby is 6 months old. Can I still become a donor?

Most milk banks prefer to recruit donors before their baby is 6 months old and some have even younger cut off times. This is because the breastmilk from a mother with a younger baby is more suitable for premature babies, especially if they are receiving donor breastmilk for more than a few days. Premature babies have very specific nutritional needs and these seem to be better met by the earlier breastmilk. Milk banks also often find that mothers who start donating around the time their baby is beginning to take weaning foods (and so reducing the frequency of breastfeeding) donate for a shorter period of time. This is because their milk supply starts to become less abundant and expressing milk can become more time consuming. With limited budgets, milk banks therefore prefer to recruit mothers with younger babies – the milk is more suitable for premature infants and the investment in recruiting a donor usually results in more milk being donated. If you would like to become a donor and your baby is already around the 5 to 6 months age mark, the milk bank may ask you to undertake a trial period to ensure that you will be able to successfully express enough milk. Once donated, all breastmilk is highly valued.

When can I start expressing?

Most mothers prefer to wait until they and their baby are confident in the breastfeeding relationship before they begin to express for the milk bank. However some like to start sooner than this if they have a large surplus of milk in the early weeks. Many donors start within a month or so of their baby’s birth and then continue for as long as they wish.

When should I express?

It is helpful to try to set up a regular routine, such as expressing at the same time every day, because it is more difficult to keep up an extra supply of milk if you only express occasionally. Some donors find it easiest to express from one breast while the baby is feeding from the other as this can make for a more effective let-down on the breast where you are expressing. This is just a suggestion, however. Just do what works best for you.

Will I have enough milk?

The body adjusts the amount of milk produced to meet the changing needs of the baby at different times and will respond in the same way if mothers express regularly. If you are worried that your own baby may not be getting enough, you can express after your baby has fed.

ilk donors, like all mothers no matter whether they are formula feeding or breastfeeding, benefit from a healthy diet and plenty of rest.

How much milk should I express?

Every Drop Counts. There are no rules about how much milk you should express – you donate what you can. Different women produce different amounts at different times. You will find that the amount you are able to express will vary from day to day and as your baby grows. Even small amounts are valuable to the milk bank.

What equipment is needed?

Breast pumps: Unless you decide to express by hand, you will need a breast pump. If you have one of your own you may continue to use it, but milk banks sometimes provide breast pumps if you would like to borrow one.

Sterilising equipment: If you use a pump you will need to sterilise it each time it is used. Any container used for hand expression will also need to be sterilised. Steam sterilisers or cold water sterilisers may be used. Alternatively you may use a large plastic container with a lid and sterilising tablets or liquid.

Bottles and labels: The milk bank will provide sterilised collection bottles and labels. Please avoid using breastmilk bags (although these are perfectly fine to use for milk for your own baby). Premature babies need the highest fat milk that we can give them. Some of the breastmilk fat will stick to the insides of breastmilk bags, whereas it will come out of the special donor bottles more readily. This tiny amount of fat is important to premature babies but will make no difference to a healthy, term baby.

Storing and delivering milk: Milk banks usually ask donors to freeze their milk in a 3 star freezer and will collect the milk from them regularly. You will be provided with a thermometer for your freezer and the temperature neeeds to be checked and recorded on a sheet that the milk bank will supply to you on a daily basis.

Can I drink alcohol?

Milk donors can drink alcohol in moderation. It is best to leave as much time as possible between taking the alcohol and expressing. Donors should avoid drinking more than 1-2 units of alcohol once or twice a week.

What arrangements will be made to get the milk to the milk bank?

Most milk banks will make arrangements to collect your milk. How often they do this will depend on how urgently they need the milk and how much you are able to store at home. If you are expressing regularly they will usually try to collect your milk at least every two or three weeks.

How do I store the milk?

When you have finished expressing, pour the milk carefully into the storage bottles. Do not touch the inside of the cap or the bottles. Always leave a 2cm gap at the top of each bottle as the milk will expand when frozen. Replace the cap securely and label the bottle with your Surname or milk bank ID number and date of expression.

You can freeze the milk immediately after expressing. If you wish to add to the bottle throughout the day, you can store it in the fridge for up to 24 hours before freezing it (at the back of the shelf, not in the fridge door). Bottles with some frozen milk in them can be topped up later and the date added to the label.

Bottles stored in the fridge or freezer should be kept away from other food by storing them in a sealed bag or plastic container.

What if I have taken any medications?

Breastmilk is only suitable for donation to the milk bank if you have taken no medications or herbal remedies (other than those allowed and discussed with the milk bank staff) in the 48 hours before you expressed. The progesterone-only contraceptive pill and asthma inhalers may be used by donors. We have a comprehensive information section about medicines and milk donation here.

If you wish to express anyway and keep the milk for your own baby, it is important that you label the milk accordingly. Breastmilk for the milk bank must always be labelled with any medications taken. Please inform the milk bank if you have any vaccinations as you may need to stop donating for a period of time.

What if I am ill?

Please let the milk bank know if you are unwell. Most minor illnesses will not affect your milk. However, if you are feeling unwell you may want to stop donating for a while.

Are donors able to meet the babies who are receiving the milk?

Generally individual donors do not meet the babies who receive the milk, or their families. This is part of the confidentiality policy. However, milk banks try to keep donors up to date with what happens to their milk, where it goes and other information about milk banking.

Can I continue to donate milk if I or my baby have thrush?

It is usually still possible to donate your milk if your baby has thrush however do please always mention this to the milk bank. However when a baby has oral thrush, his or her breastfeeding mother will very often also develop a thrush infection of the nipples. If you get sore nipples with pain after feeds, you should suspect the thrush has transferred to your nipples and you should seek treatment. Any donating mother who has a thrush infection of her breasts – please do not donate during time of treatment (if treated with creams) and for 5 days if taking fluconazole tablets.
If you have vaginal thrush you can continue to donate but please (as always) be extremely careful with hand hygiene.

Can I continue to donate breastmilk if my baby or someone in the family has chicken pox?

It depends on whether you have had chicken pox yourself. If you have definitely had chicken pox, there is no need to stop donating but as a general rule you should always let milk bank staff know if someone in the family is ill. You shouldn’t visit the milk bank with your baby or whoever has the chicken pox. If you haven’t had chicken pox or are unsure, please don’t donate until your family member is no longer infectious (ie after their spots have all crusted over) and only then if you remain well yourself. If you have shingles you should not donate until all active lesions have healed and you are feeling well again.

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