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Feeding Your Baby Another Mother’s Milk

Your milk is the most nutritious and safest food for your baby. However, if you are struggling with your milk supply, you may be faced with a tough decision. What do you feed your baby?

If a mother does not have sufficient milk for her baby, MilkWorks recommends the use of pasteurized banked donor human milk.

What is pasteurized banked donor human milk? This is milk that is donated by mothers who have extra milk. Mothers who donate milk are screened for illnesses/diseases and medication use. Their milk is then pasteurized (heat treated) at a milk bank. Banked human milk has most of the benefits of a mother’s own milk. It also has the least potential to expose a baby to unknown illnesses/diseases. Banked human milk is ideal to use on a short-term basis in the early days, however, it is difficult to use long term because of its cost (~$5 an ounce).

If pasteurized banked donor human milk is not an option, we recommend hydrolyzed protein formula (such as Alimentum or Nutramigen) for short-term supplementation. These are hydrolyzed protein formulas and they are less likely to irritate a baby’s digestive system than standard cow’s milk formula because the protein is hydrolyzed or broken down more. Often called hypo-allergenic formulas, they also help jaundice clear faster than other types of formulas. A hydrolyzed protein formula is more costly than a standard cow’s milk formula. If you are feeding formula to a baby younger than one month of age, you may want to consider purchasing a liquid, rather than powdered, formula. Unlike liquid formula, powder cannot be sterilized.

Why don’t we suggest that a mother feed her baby milk from another mother? (We call this shared milk.) It has to do with balancing risks.

Any formula has the potential to increase an infant’s risk of certain acute or chronic illnesses, including lung infections, ear infections, diarrhea and diabetes. However, shared milk also carries a risk in that it has not been screened, and the mother who produced the milk may be carrying illnesses/ diseases that she is not aware she has.

Shared milk has the potential to expose a baby to an illness or disease that the mother (who is sharing her milk) has been exposed to, including HIV and hepatitis, both potentially fatal. Other substances, such as nicotine, alcohol, or prescription/over the counter/street drugs could also be present in the shared milk.

Well-meaning friends and family members may offer their own pumped milk to help a mother avoid using formula. Their intentions may be good, however, it is important for you as a mother to make an informed decision and weigh all the factors involved.

The Human Milk Banks of North America (HMBANA) use the following criteria for excluding a prospective donor:

  • She has had a positive blood test result for HIV, HTLV, hepatitis B or C, or syphilis.
  • She, or her sexual partner, are at risk for HIV.
  • She uses illegal drugs, smoked or uses tobacco products, or regularly drinks 2 ounces or more of alcohol per day.
  • She has received an organ or tissue transplant or has had a blood transfusion in the last twelve months.
  • She has been in the United Kingdom for more than three months, or in Europe for more than five years, since 1980.
  • She was born in, or has traveled to, Cameroon, Central Africa Republic, Chad, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Niger, or Nigeria.

Where can banked milk be found? MilkWorks keeps a small amount of frozen banked donor human milk on hand. Currently, both Lincoln hospitals provide donor milk for premature babies who meet certain criteria.

You may also contact the Denver Milk Bank directly at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center, toll free (877) 458-5503.