There are two basic types of human milk sharing. Those are formal and informal milk sharing.
- Formal milk sharing is done by utilizing milk obtained from a Milk Bank. Milk Banks are facilities that collect human milk donations, batch process the milk and pasteurize it before sending it to families in need.
- Informal milk sharing is the sharing of breastmilk from one mother to another. There are websites set up for milk sharing but often it is done via word of mouth or local area mothering groups.
Formal Milk Sharing
Formal Milk Banks in the United States are usually members of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA). Milk Banks are non-profits and generally serve a region of the country. There are currently 15 milk banks serving the entire United States. You can find information about how the breastmilk is processed here. Donors to milk banks are screened and fill in detailed questionnaires to weed out any potential donors who are taking medications, supplements, etc. that could effect the babies who receive their milk. Because of the expensive screening process milk banks only take donations of a certain quantity to be most cost effective. The milk from these formal milk banks is usually available by prescription only and goes to the babies who are most in need first. This milk generally is shipped to hospitals for premature or ill babies whose mothers can not provide breastmilk to them. The breastmilk is seen as medicine for these babies and is very important for their survival. We at The MILC Group strongly encourage any mamas who have extra stored breastmilk or who have the desire to assist these families to contact a local milk bank and donate that breastmilk! The closest milk bank to us is the Mother's Milk Bank Austin. There are collection sites set up in San Antonio and other cities that will ship your milk to Austin to be processed. The Mother's Milk Bank in Austin ships milk to many other states that do not have their own milk banks. They are such an amazing resource!
Informal Milk Sharing
Informal milk sharing is not as structured. There are safety concerns regarding the use of breastmilk not obtained from a milk bank. This breastmilk comes from a mother who you may or may not know. You are not necessarily aware of her health history, what medications she takes, what her diet is like and whether or not she consumes drugs or alcohol. Many mothers who share their milk are actually willing to provide proof of their good health. They will also inform the mothers that they share their milk with of their diet and medication use. One of the national groups set up for informal milk sharing has some guidelines on screening potential donors. You can find those guidelines here. There are a number of national and international organizations set up to assist mothers in sharing their breastmilk with those in need. Here is a list of a few: