Human milk bank

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Human milk banks store breast milk from donors for infants who cannot be given direct breast feeding due to several medical or physical reasons. Breast milk should ideally come from the baby's own mother. But when this is not possible, the baby can be given breast milk from donors (other women's breast milk), which provides the same precious nutrition and disease fighting properties as one’s own breast milk.


Why should I be aware of this?

If your baby has special needs, such as intolerance to formula, severe allergies, is failing to thrive on formula, is premature or has other health problems, he or she may need donated human milk not only for health, but also for survival.

How does this affect me?

There are several reasons why a mother may not be able to breastfeed her own baby:

  • If the delivery is premature, a mother's milk supply may not become established enough to provide milk for her baby. Sometimes the stress of caring for a very ill infant prevents the milk supply from developing.
  • A mother who delivers twins or triplets might not have enough milk supply to nourish all of the babies.
  • Some medicines taken by the mother for a health problem, such as chemotherapy for cancer, can harm a baby.
  • If a mother has an infection, such as HIV or hepatitis, it is likely to spread to her baby through breastfeeding,.
  • A mother might have a health problem that prevents her from breastfeeding or makes it impossible for her to produce milk.

All about human milk bank

Human milk banks follow a strict procedure for collection and dissemination of milk. A lactating woman’s breastmilk is collected, pasteurized, tested for any microbes of diseases and then stored in a freezer at -20 degrees centigrade. It is of paramount importance that the donor mother is healthy and is not suffering from any disease.

The expressed milk is pasteurized for 30 minutes at 62.5 degrees after which it is rapidly cooled and poured into an autoclave stainless steel container measuring 150cc, 250cc and 300 cc and preserved at minus 20 degrees centigrade. From each of the three containers, a sample measuring 2 cc is sent for culture and microbiological testing for HIV, history of jaundice, venereal disease and so on. Once found disease-free, the stock is stored and used when required within the subsequent six months.

Across countries

In countries such as the UK, Sweden, Norway, and the US, the services of human milk banks have been available for many decades now. Indian hospitals only understood its importance in 1987, when Dr Armida Fernandez, then Dean of Sion Hospital, founded the first human milk bank of the country and, in fact, in Asia.

The need for the human milk bank was not felt, until the importance of breastfeeding was understood and gained universal popularity. In developing countries even today there are many hospitals, doctors, nurses and working mothers who prefer the easy way out and opt for bottle-feeding their babies.

Who can be doners?

  • Donors can take the progesterone-only contraceptive pill and use asthma inhalers, if necessary, but cannot take any other medication, smoke, or drink more than two units of alcohol or seven cups of coffee a day.
  • Donations must stop if the woman develops mastitis or rubella or recently had a rubella vaccination.
  • The first donation must be within six months of starting breastfeeding

What can I do?

  • It pays to be informed, because many children that could benefit from donor milk get deprived as many doctors are not aware that human milk banks exist
  • You can identify a typical candidate for donor breastmilk when they exhibit prolonged episodes of inconsolable crying, ongoing vomiting and classic allergy signs such as purple or black circles under the eyes, pallor, skin inflammation, lethargy and frequent or bloody stools.
  • If you think that your baby might benefit from donor human milk, contact one of the milk banks.
  • First you have to consult a doctor and get a prescription to receive donormilk. Each recipient of donor milk needs to be under medical supervision.
  • After everything is set up, you can pick up donor milk at your local milk bank, or have it shipped directly to you. You do not need to live near a milk bank to receive donor milk.

90 degrees

Among the economically lower strata or in large joint families, a new mother rarely lacks a donor, as wet nursing is quite a common practice among such groups. There are always three to four new deliveries at any given time. If a woman is unable to breastfeed her child, she turns to the other lactating mothers who never hesitate to nurse the child. The milk bank is an advanced form of wet nursing.


For some babies, receiving breastmilk isn't just a good nutrition and mothering choice, it may be a question of life or death. Infants with failure to thrive (FTT), formula intolerance, allergies and certain other medical conditions require real human milk not only for health but even for survival.


  • Human Milk Banks
  • Got milk bank?
  • Banking on breast milk