3 Big Rules for Using Donated Breast Milk

If you're thinking about using donated breast milk for your baby, here's what you should know, from a mom who has been a donor.

Baby Drinking Milk From Bottle Illustration Valeria Petrone

Whether your baby is in the NICU or you simply want to explore the option of using donor milk, keep these three things in mind.

1. Advocate if needed.

If your baby is born preterm or has a special condition and is in the NICU, you may need to request the use of donor milk. As long as he qualifies and your hospital has a donor-milk program in place, it should be a relatively seamless process and often expense-free. But if your baby needs donor milk at home, you will need a prescription, and your insurance is unlikely to foot the cost. (Only six states provide Medicaid coverage and even then, only in certain circumstances.) Your doctor or milk bank will need to petition your insurance company for coverage, and in some cases, following up (multiple times) can be necessary. Decisions about coverage can take weeks—even for babies who need donor milk immediately—so it’s worth asking your local milk bank about potential financial assistance. Otherwise you may need to pay the processing fees yourself.

2. Don’t buy milk online. 

You won’t have to look far to find people who are willing to sell their extra supply for a seriously pretty penny. However, one study in Pediatrics found that 74 percent of breastmilk samples bought online contained a number of potentially harmful bacteria, including staphylococcus and E. coli. Another alarming study found that 10 percent of breast-milk samples bought online were partly cow’s milk—which means that the breast milk was diluted so the seller could earn more money. 

3. Avoid informal milk sharing.

If a friend or family member has extra breast milk and she offers to share, it’s best to politely decline, as it’s not the safest option. “With unpasteurized breast milk, there’s a risk of contamination from a virus or bacteria during milk expression or storage,” says Younger Meek, M.D., a professor at Florida State University College of Medicine, in Tallahassee, and chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Breastfeeding.