A milk donor is a woman who has an adequate supply of breast milk and is able to donate some of her milk to families who would like to breastfeed their babies but for some reason cannot produce milk on their own. Sometimes milk is provided to women who cannot breastfeed because they are on medications or have contracted diseases that can pass through the milk and harm their infants; in other cases, the milk goes to women who have had physical problems that affected the breasts or milk ducts, and milk can also be donated to single fathers or same sex couples whose infants do not have access to breast milk. The majority of the milk collected goes straight to babies who need it, but in some cases a milk bank may reserve a small amount for research purposes.
Medical research indicates that breast milk provides the greatest nutritional value for an infant and provides antibodies that can help stave off illness during the early years. Some new mothers, however, are unable to breastfeed even though they would like to do so, which is where a milk donor can be beneficial. Premature babies are especially in need of breast milk, as their mothers’ supply may not be adequate due to the timing of their births and lack of proper hormones.
A woman who wishes to become a milk donor typically needs to contact a milk bank in her area. The maternity ward at a local hospital should be able to point her in the right direction. Before she can begin donating, she will need to pass a screening test to ensure that her milk supply is safe to provide to babies. The criteria for donating milk are similar to that for donating blood products. Women who use tobacco products, drink alcohol frequently while breastfeeding, or have recently received a blood transfusion or tissue transplant are typically excluded from participating. Those who take certain medications or use illicit drugs are also excluded.
Once a woman is approved to become a milk donor, she can begin pumping milk and providing it to the milk bank. If the woman is breastfeeding her own child at the same time, she will need to ensure that she has an adequate supply for her own baby before donating to the bank. Typically, the milk bank will provide all the supplies, with the exception of the breast milk pump. If the need for donated milk is great enough and the woman cannot afford a pump, she may be able to receive one loaned by the milk bank.
Becoming a milk donor for a milk bank is typically a strictly volunteer position. Most banks do not have the funds to pay for the milk, although they will pay for supplies. Some parents, however, hire “wet nurses” to provide care for their child as well as breast milk, and these are typically paid positions.