True or false: The alternative to breastmilk is formula.
But if for whatever reason you can’t or choose not to breastfeed, there’s also donor milk.

Donor what?

It’s exactly what it sounds like and it’s not that farfetched. Formula as we know it is a fairly recent invention. Surely you’ve heard of a wet nurse before? Today’s version of a wet nurse is donor milk sourced from a lactation bank. While formula is specifically manufactured to deliver consistent nutrients, donor milk is closer to mother’s milk than formula. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Available evidence shows that compared with formula, donor human milk is associated with lower incidence of the severe gut disorder, necrotising enterocolitis, and other infections during the initial hospital stay after birth.” The WHO recommends donor milk for low birth weight babies who can’t be fed their mom’s own milk.

Donor milk must be carefully sourced as some diseases can pass into breastmilk, including Ebola, HIV, hepatitis C and hepatitis B. Our pediatric advisor Dr. Alan Greene explains that milk banks test the donors for illness and (gently) pasteurize the milk they accept to knock out potentially harmful bacteria. Pasteurization could also knock out some of the benefits of breastmilk, which is partly why there’s an (underground) market of donor milk that isn’t pre-tested or pasteurized—basically just moms donating directly to other moms. “If you go that way, you’re setting the baby up for whatever that mother has, which may or may not be problematic,” says Dr. Greene.

If, on the flip side, you’re a mom who is a “hyper” producer and would like to donate your abundance, sharing your wealth is a lovely idea. Dr. Greene encourages moms with ample breastmilk supplies first to pump and freeze to extend the amount of time they’re able to give their own babies milk. He also says that if she’s interested in and open to donating, a mom can be a hero.

If you are interested in donating breast milk or are in need of breast milk, check out the following websites for further information: