For your health: Donated breast milk can save lives

If you are a breastfeeding mother who produces excess milk, do not throw it away. Your breast milk can help save your baby’s life!

Why collect breast milk?

Breast milk is especially important for premature or sick babies, who are more likely to develop devastating intestinal infections if they are fed formula instead of breast milk. One in nine babies is born prematurely, and less than half of premature mothers are able to provide breast milk to their babies. By donating breast milk, these premature babies are still able to receive the benefits of breast milk, helping them grow and thrive.

Research shows that providing donor breast milk to these tiny, fragile babies can prevent necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a disease that attacks the intestines, damaging or destroying it. NEC often requires emergency surgery to remove part of the intestine. Emergency surgery on premature babies is difficult and dangerous. Breastfeeding reduces the incidence of NEC by 75%.

Breast milk promotes intestinal tissue maturation, fights infection, promotes brain development, and provides ideal nutrition.

Is it safe to donate breast milk?

fork. Human milk banks follow strict screening, processing and distribution standards set by the Human Milk Bank Association of North America to ensure the safety of donated breast milk.

These standards were developed based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the blood and tissue industry.

Potential milk donors provide a complete medical and lifestyle history and undergo blood tests for HIV, HTLV, syphilis, and hepatitis B and C, similar to the screening process used by blood banks.

The donated milk is then tested for bacteria and nutrients and pasteurized to kill any bacteria and viruses. Prior to distribution, bacteriological testing is repeated to verify that all bacteria have been eliminated.

How is donated breast milk processed?

Frozen donor breast milk is thawed, nutritionally analyzed, cultured, pooled and poured into bottles, then pasteurized at 62.5 degrees Celsius in a shaking water bath or automatic pasteurizer. Pasteurized milk is quickly cooled and then frozen at minus 20 degrees Celsius.

Microbial cultures were obtained by independent laboratories from sediments of individual donors before pasteurization and blending and from each batch of milk after pasteurization. This is done to verify that heat-resistant pathogens are not present before pasteurization and that there is zero bacterial growth after the heating process.

Donating milk saves lives and money

Studies show that NEC can extend an infant’s hospital stay by two weeks and increase additional costs from $128,000 to $238,000. Additionally, by using donated breast milk instead of formula, other complications such as sepsis are reduced, meaning babies can go home sooner, with fewer health problems, and be healthier.

What is a milk bank?

Once a mother has been screened by the milk bank and approved to donate breast milk, she can take her donated breast milk to a breast milk collection site called a milk depot, which will securely store her donation and send it to the breast milk bank.

The Mid-Missouri Mothers Milk Bank, located at the Cole County Health Department, provides mothers in central Missouri with a convenient location to deposit donations. The health department’s milk bank site is affiliated with The Milk Bank of Indianapolis (TMB). Milk collected locally is transported to TMB for processing, pasteurization and distribution.

Who makes this possible?

Breast milk shortages impact the lives of the most vulnerable babies, so breast milk donations are always in great need.

Breastfeeding mothers who produce extra breast milk beyond their own infant’s needs have an excellent opportunity to donate breast milk, thereby saving the life of their fragile newborns. This is a gift that will last a lifetime. We are grateful to all donors for their generous donations.

Start saving lives now

The Milk Bank needs 119 new donors each month to help safely feed vulnerable premature and fragile babies. There is no cost to become a donor.

To learn more and get started as a donor, visit or call 877-829-7470.

Melinda Ridenhour has been with the Cole County Health Department for 25 years. She is a Registered Dietitian and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant, Director of Nutritional Services, WIC Clinic Manager, and Coordinator of the Mid-Missouri Human Milk Bank.

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