Pasteurised Human Breast Milk: What, Why, When and How

Every mother wants the best for her baby and when it comes to nutrition there’s nothing better than breast milk. However, some mothers find it difficult to breastfeed. A woman may have become a mother through surrogacy, she may be unwell, she may have delivered triplets and thus her own breastmilk may be insufficient, etc. In such cases, what are the options you are left with? Feed your infant formula, rely on informal milk sharing or give your newborn pasteurised human breast milk?

As we all know infant formula may be able to give the baby nutrition but it cannot replicate the bioactive matrix of mother’s milk. And the medical community does not encourage informal milk sharing or letting other lactating mothers breastfeed your child. When you participate in informal milk sharing, you cannot guarantee that the milk has been stored hygienically and free from bacteria nor can you test whether the milk has been adulterated with anything.

So, if you find it difficult to express sufficient milk for your baby or your baby is born prematurely, organizations like the WHO, UNICEF and the Indian Academy of Paediatrics recommend giving him or her pasteurised human breast milk. Let us find out more about

What is pasteurised human breast milk?

Pasteurised human breast milk refers to excess breast milk donated by healthy mother which undergoes pasteurisation to make it safe for consumption by an infant. Pasteurisation is a process that uses heat to kill any bad bacteria that may be present in the milk without affecting its nutritive value, immune properties or the good bacteria. After pasteurisation, the milk undergoes further quality checks to ensure it is safe for a baby.

What are the benefits of pasteurised human breast milk?

Mother’s milk has been proved to contain the best nutrition along with immune factors and growth hormones and beneficial bacteria to help babies grow strong and fight infections. If you cannot nurse your baby directly, pasteurised breast milk, donated by other healthy mothers, is the best alternative.

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Let’s look at some of the benefits.

Loaded with bioactive factors similar to your own breast milk

Human milk is not comparable to cow’s milk or soy-based formulas in terms of the balance of nutrients. The nutritive value is higher in human milk and it is easier to digest too. This helps babies absorb more nutrients from the milk.

Human milk also contains good bacteria that will help the baby build a foundation for his/her immune system. These bioactive factors, most of which are absent in infant formulas aid in growth, mental development and immune function in the short and long term.

Safe for your baby

Pasteurised human breast milk is safe for all babies. Milk banks that provide pasteurised breast milk have stringent safety protocols in place. All donors are screened for diseases like Hepatitis, HIV and blood-borne diseases as well as the use of prescribed medication, illegal drugs and tobacco.

They are also screened for having recently received blood transfusions or organ transplants. Once collected, the milk is handled hygienically and pasteurised (as recommended by World Health organisation – WHO). The process of pasteurisation itself kills all harmful pathogens without changing much else. All the nutrients and antibodies are retained and available to your baby.

Lastly, random pasteurised breast milk samples are tested from each batch to ensure that no bacteria or viruses have survived the pasteurisation process. It is then kept frozen until it is ready for use.

Lower risk of infections

Babies are born with passive immunity passed down from their mothers through breastfeeding. After birth, it takes a few months before babies can develop their own immune system. Studies have shown that babies fed with human milk- pasteurised human breast milk , have a lower risk of infections. Premature babies fed with pasteurised breastmilk also require a shorter stay in the NICU as compared to infants who are fed infant formula. This is because pasteurised breastmilk is supplied by healthy mothers with strong immune systems who pass on passive immunity through the milk.

Why and When is pasteurised human breast milk recommended?

Pasteurised donor milk is recommended in the below situations:

  • Babies born prematurely and receiving care in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit
  • Babies who cannot tolerate cow’s milk or soy-based infant formulas
  • Mothers who have difficulty feeding breastmilk owing to reasons such as sickness, medical contraindications, inadequate lactation and many more.
  • Mothers who are on certain medications that are not compatible with breastfeeding.
  • Mothers suffering from infectious diseases that may be passed down to the baby through breastmilk.
  • Mothers who have insufficient glandular tissue and need to supplement their milk.
  • Mothers who produce an insufficient amount of breastmilk for the baby.
  • Fostered or adopted babies.

In such scenarios, pasteurised human breast milk is preferred over other alternatives such as cow’s milk or infant formula. Pasteurised human breast milk has a similar composition in terms of nutrient ratios and contains natural immunoglobulins and essential oligosaccharides which are present exclusively in human milk, and absent in  cow’s milk-based formulas.

Some babies may be given pasteurised human breast milk for a week or so to bridge the gap until their mothers can produce sufficient breastmilk while others may require for a longer time. Your doctor is the best person to guide you on the transition. You can also engage with lactation consultants to help you improve your own breastmilk supply while feeding your baby pasteurised human breast milk in the interim period.

The step-by-step process of pasteurising milk

Before pasteurised human breast milk reaches a mother, it goes through several stages.

1. Donor recruitment and screening
Potential donors need to fill out questionnaires about their health and sign a consent form. They must also provide details about their lifestyle. A blood test is also conducted to screen for diseases such as HIV, Hepatitis, Syphilis and other blood-borne diseases.
2. Milk expression and collection
Approved donors can express milk at home or in the lab. Each bottle is labelled for easy identification. The collected milk is then shipped off to the processing facility.
3. Pasteurisation
Pasteurisation involves the use of heat to kill harmful pathogens. Donor breastmilk is heated in a water bath to a temperature of 62.5˚C and incubated at this temperature for 30 minutes. This process is consistent with guidelines issued by the WHO.
4. Testing
A random sample is taken from each batch to be tested for the presence of bacteria and viruses. The sample must pass the QC analysis and show zero microbial growth before it can be released for distribution.
5. Freezing
Once the quality tests are approved, Pasteurised human breast milk is frozen and stored in freezers. This is thawed only once when it is dispensed to babies. Please keep in mind that once thawed, Pasteurised human breast milk must not be re-frozen (it may be kept as liquid in the refrigerator) and consumed within 24 hours of thawing.

Pasteurised vs unpasteurised donor human milk

Between the two, pasteurised donor human milk is the safer choice. Here are some of the key differences:

1. Mother’s health screening
Pasteurised human breast milk is collected only from women who have passed stringent screening for infectious diseases, presence of harmful bacteria and viruses, blood-borne diseases and use of tobacco and illegal drugs. Unpasteurised donor milk is not subject to any such screening and thus may be collected from women who are suffering from infectious diseases or those who indulge in drugs.
2. Purity
Pasteurised human breast milk is guaranteed to be 100 per cent human breast milk while unpasteurised milk available through informal milk sharing platforms could be potentially adulterated with cow’s milk or infant formula.
3. Presence of pathogens
Pasteurised human breast milk is heat-treated to eliminate harmful viruses and bacteria. QC test ensure that no infectious agents remain in the milk.
On the other hand, unpasteurised breast milk undergoes no such testing and treatment to kill pathogens. Hence the milk may potentially contain bacteria and viruses that could put infants at risk of infections.

How to procure pasteurised human breast milk?

If you need pasteurised human breast milk for your baby, you will need to contact a registered milk bank. Milk banks provide Pasteurised human breast milk for:

  • Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU’s) in hospitals
  • Infants at home with medical conditions related to food intolerances and premature birth (on recommendation of a doctor)

Every mother has a different breastfeeding experience. Some women produce more milk than required while others face many challenges nursing their babies. There is nothing wrong with you, if you need to give your baby pasteurised human breastmilk. In fact, you would be contributing to your baby’s health by ensuring availability of Pasteurised human breast milk while avoiding cow’s milk / soy-based infant formulas.

If mothers are unable to meet their baby’s requirement of breast milk, they can get in touch with organisations such as NeoLacta Lifesciences, which can help them fulfil this gap. NeoLacta Lifesciences, with its unique 100% human milk-derived products and patented technology has benefitted more than 20,000 babies over the last 3 years in India. Moreover, NeoLacta’s products are being routinely used across 200+ super speciality hospitals pan-India.