Is donor milk right for your preemie?

feeding in the NICUFor premature babies, breast milk can be lifesaving. It is more easily digested and provides protection against many diseases. Providing breast milk, however, can be a challenge for some moms. Many moms are not able to provide their baby with their own breast milk for various reasons, they:

  • are recovering from surgery or have certain medical conditions that make it difficult to initiate and maintain a milk supply;
  • find it difficult to pump enough milk to meet their baby’s needs;
  • have chronic conditions and need to take medications that may make their breast milk unsafe.

In these cases, donor milk may be the best option for your preemie, and a better alternative to formula.

What is donor milk and where does it come from?

A milk bank is a service that collects, screens, processes and distributes safe human milk to babies in need. All donated milk goes through a pasteurization process to eliminate bacteria while keeping the milk’s essential nutrients. The milk is then packaged, stored and ready to ship to hospitals or individual recipients at home. Lactating women who wish to donate their breast milk may do so through a milk bank.

Does your preemie need donor milk?

The nutritional needs of each baby depends on many different factors. It’s important to talk to your baby’s doctor to see if donor milk is right for your baby. Some hospitals have their own donor milk bank or have a partnership with a milk bank near them. If your baby’s doctor indicates that your baby will benefit from donor milk, he can write a prescription. For more information about the milk bank closest to you, visit the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.

Can you buy breast milk from another mom who has milk to spare?

There are risks with getting breast milk from a stranger or a friend; this milk is not tested or screened for infectious diseases or contamination. A study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that out of 101 samples of milk purchased online from different mothers, 74% of samples were contaminated with bacteria and 21% of samples contained cytomegalovirus (CMV) bacteria.

It’s important to be informed when making feeding decisions for your preemie. If you have any questions about donor milk or your baby’s nutritional needs, speak with your baby’s healthcare provider.

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