Milk Banking FAQs

Why collect human milk?

Human milk is especially important for premature or sick babies, who are 1,000% more likely to develop devastating intestinal infections if they are fed formula instead of human milk. Fewer than half of moms who deliver a baby prematurely are able to provide their babies with breast milk. Through donor milk, these preterm babies are still able to receive the benefits of breast milk to help them grow and thrive. 

When it comes to tiny and fragile infants, neonatologists are most concerned about providing nutrients and immune and growth-promoting components, while preventing necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a condition that attacks the intestinal tract, damaging or destroying it. NEC frequently requires emergency surgery to remove part of the intestines; emergency surgery on a preterm infant is difficult and dangerous.

Human milk makes a huge difference in how well tiny and fragile babies do after birth because it vastly reduces the incidence of NEC, and it helps to repair the intestines should they become infected. Human milk matures the intestinal tissue, fights infections, and promotes brain development while providing ideal nutrition. Consider:

  • 1 in 9 babies is born preterm
  • 10-17% of preterm infants fed formula acquire NEC
  • 1.5% of preterm infants fed human milk acquire NEC
  • Human milk feedings reduce the rate of NEC by 75%


Is donor human milk safe?

Yes. Mothers’ Milk Bank Austin follows strict screening, processing and dispensing standards established by the Human Milk Banking Association of North America ( to ensure the safety of donor human milk. These standards have been established with the advisement of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the US Food and Drug Administration, and the blood and tissue industries. Potential milk donors provide complete medical and lifestyle histories, and undergo blood tests for HIV, HTLV, syphilis, and hepatitis B and C similar to the screening process used at blood banks. Donated milk is then tested for bacteria and nutrients, and pasteurized to kill any bacteria and viruses. Before dispensing, bacteriological testing is repeated to verify that all bacteria are destroyed.


Why can’t a mother provide milk for her own baby?

Donor human milk is provided to babies whose mothers do not have their own milk to provide. This situation can happen for a variety of reasons, including:

  • When a mother’s milk supply is delayed due to circumstances of birth or pregnancy, including premature delivery
  • When a mother’s milk supply does not become established enough to provide sufficient milk for her child or children (twins or triplets, for instance)
  • When stress interferes with milk supply, such as when the mother of a hospitalized infant is unable to hold or directly nurse her baby
  • When a mother requires medication that my pass through her own milk and harm her infant
  • When a mothers has a medical condition that precludes breastfeeding, such as HIV


Who receives donor milk?

Donor human milk is dispensed by prescription primarily to babies born premature or who are ill. Common reasons for prescribing donor human milk include:

  • Premature birth
  • Failure to Thrive
  • Formula intolerance
  • Food allergies
  • Malabsorption syndromes
  • Immunologic deficiencies
  • Pre or Post-operative nutrition and immunologic support


How is donor milk processed?

Frozen donor milk is thawed, nutritionally analyzed, cultured, pooled and poured into bottles, then pasteurized at 62.5 C in a shaking water bath or automatic pasteurizer. Pasteurized milk is quick-cooled, then frozen at -20’C. Microbiological cultures are obtained by an independent laboratory from individual donors’ deposits prior to pasteurization and pooling, and from each batch of milk after pasteurization. This is done to verify that no heat-resistant pathogens are present before pasteurization, and that there is zero growth of bacteria after the heating process.


How does Mothers’ Milk Bank Austin analyze nutritional components of milk?

Nutritional analysis is conducted at MMBA using a Foss Electric MilkoScan FT120, a full-spectrum infrared spectroscopy. This equipment is calibrated to read fat, lactose and protein content of the milk, allowing MMBA to standardize nutrient components of human milk in a process developed by MMBA called Target Pooling. This standardization allows for effective evaluation of babies’ growth and development, specific fortification of milk for individual babies, and selection of milk pools that meet individual babies’ needs.


Is milk banking cost-effective?

Yes! Research shows that necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), which donor human milk can help prevent, will increase a baby’s length of hospital stay by two weeks at an additional cost of $128,000 to $238,000. In addition, reductions in other complications such as sepsis through the use of donor human milk instead of formula means that the baby goes home sooner with fewer medical issues - and stays healthier.


Is there a professional organization for milk banks?

Yes. Mothers’ Milk Bank Austin is one of 30 milk banks who are members of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA). HMBANA is a multidisciplinary group of health care providers that promotes, protects, and supports donor milk banking. It is the only professional membership association for milk banks in Canada, Mexico, and the United States, and sets the standards and guidelines for donor milk banking in those areas.


Where can I find out more about milk banking?

Learn more about milk banking at the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA) site.