Thousands of babies are born early every year. Some mothers can find it hard to make enough milk in the early weeks if their baby is in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Their baby may be given human milk donated from another mother, until their milk comes in.

Pasteurised donor human milk is a precious resource that is used for vulnerable babies. These are the smallest or sickest babies in the NICU. These vulnerable babies include:

  • babies born very early, especially those born before 32 weeks
  • babies born with a very low birth weight i.e., <1500 grams
  • babies who have serious problems, such as with their gut or heart.

If your baby needs human donor milk, trained staff will speak to you. If you give your consent, the doctor will order the milk for your baby.

Benefits of human milk

Vulnerable babies are given human milk to reduce their risk of necrotising enterocolitis (NEC) . NEC is a serious disease that affects a baby's intestines.

Human milk has been shown to decrease the risk of NEC. It coats and protects a baby's gut and is easier to digest than formula. Human milk also protects babies against other serious diseases and infections. It has all the nutrients babies need for their growth and development.

Human milk is best for human babies.

Help and support

Frequently asked questions

How do I access human donor milk?

Your baby's doctor will order the milk while your baby needs it.

Will there be enough donor milk for all babies who need it?

Sometimes more babies need donor human milk than is available. If this happens, the donor milk will be given to the smallest and sickest babies.

How long can my baby have donor human milk?

Once your own milk supply is meeting your baby's needs, you will not need donor milk anymore. If your own milk is not available, your baby will move to formula at around 34 weeks if they are no longer high risk.

Who donates breast milk?

Donor human milk is a generous gift from one mother to another.

Some reasons she may donate include:

  • she is feeding her own baby and has extra milk
  • she has frozen, expressed milk that she no longer needs
  • she has lost her baby and wants to honour them by giving other babies the best chance of a healthy life.

Can I donate breast milk?

Visit the Australian Red Cross Lifeblood to see if you can donate.

How safe is human donor milk?

Women can only donate milk after an interview with Australian Red Cross Lifeblood and a blood test, to make sure their milk is safe for vulnerable babies. The milk is then pasteurised to make it safer, which means some components are reduced but it still has the nutrients that help protect your baby.

Donor milk provided by Australian Red Cross Lifeblood meets the NSW Health and NSW Food Authority guidelines. The risk of infection, though small, is not zero. In decades of human milk banking worldwide, there have been no published reports of infectious diseases being caused by properly pasteurised human donor milk.

Are mothers paid when they donate milk?

No. Mothers are not paid to donate milk.

Can I know who has given milk for my baby?

No. We maintain strict confidentiality of both the donor and receiver.

Current as at: Thursday 23 February 2023
Contact page owner: Maternity, Child and Family