Human Milk Bank: Everything You Need to Know

Every mother wants her baby to grow strong and healthy. Breast milk is the best source of nourishment for infants. Unfortunately, some mothers cannot breastfeed their babies owing to reasons such as sickness, medical contraindications, inadequate lactation, surrogacy/IVF and many more.  A human milk bank can come to the rescue of such mothers.

The human milk bank concept is not alien to India. In fact, India’s first human milk bank was established way back in 1989. Read on to find out what this is all about and how it helps mothers and their babies.

What is a human milk bank?

A human milk bank is a repository for breast milk. Just as some mothers struggle with low lactation volumes, some others have excess lactation, much more than their babies require. They can express the excess breast milk and donate it to milk banks. Here, it undergoes quality checks and is then pasteurised and stored in a frozen form. When recommended by a clinician, mothers can then access donor breast milk from these milk banks for their babies. Human milk banks have strict criteria and all donated milk must meet stringent quality checks to ensure that the milk is safe for consumption.

Pasteurised donor milk may be used for:

  • Premature babies.
  • Babies born to mothers who have difficulty breastfeeding/who are on certain medications/ who are suffering from infectious diseases.

Who can donate breast milk?

The ideal breast milk donor is a mother in good health who can feed her baby satisfactorily and still have excess milk. To qualify being a donor, she must meet the below criteria.

  • She must not be suffering from any illness or infection.
  • She must test negative for HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C and Syphilis.
  • She must not consume alcohol while producing breastmilk.
  • She must not have received an organ transplant or blood transfusion in the last 12 months.
  • She must not be taking any kind of radioactive drugs or be exposed to a toxic chemical environment.
  • She must not have fungal infections of the nipple or areola or have mastitis.

All prospective donors must undergo a blood test before they can be qualified as donors.

How is breast milk collected?

Breast milk donation is a voluntary exercise. The first step of breastmilk collection is to test the donors to ensure that they meet the eligibility criteria. Breastmilk can be collected at home or in a hospital by expressing milk manually or with the help of a breast pump.

As you are aware, maintaining good hygiene while expressing is very important. Mothers must wash their hands thoroughly, sterilise the breast pump and collect the expressed breast milk in clean, labelled containers. Once collected it must be refrigerated and then handed over to the human milk bank.

Processing and Pasteurisation

Milk from multiple donors is mixed and processed together called pooling.  It is then pasteurised using Holder’s method. This process kills any pathogens that may be present in the donated milk without affecting the nutritive and immune value of the milk. To pasteurise the milk, the donor milk is placed in a water bath heated to 62.5˚C and incubated at this constant temperature for 30 minutes. This process complies with WHO guidelines.

Once pasteurised, a random sample of each batch is tested to ensure zero microbial growth.  The pasteurised breast milk is then frozen until required.

Accessing Human Milk Banks

Donor breast milk is completely safe for your infant. Milk banks provide pasteurised human milk to infants at home and hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU’s). Get in touch with organisations, such as NeoLacta Lifesciences that provide 100% human milk-derived products. NeoLacta’s products are trusted by over 200 super specialty hospitals pan-India.


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