Why is Donor Milk Needed?

Why Donate Breastmilk
© Milk Matters

All over the world it is recognised that only breastmilk offers premature babies the nutrition and protection essential for their survival.

When a mother is unable to supply the breastmilk her baby needs, breastmilk from another mother (donor milk) is the next best option as it:

  • dramatically increases the baby’s chance of survival.
  • protects against infections and serious complications.
  • offers ideal nutrition.
  • increases immunity.
  • does not put added strain on an immature system.

And in particular, donor milk:

  • helps prevent the potentially fatal intestinal infections that very low birth weight premature babies are particularly susceptible to
  • helps babies to recover from these infections and decreases the likelihood of surgery being needed

Artificial feeds:

  • do not offer the protection and healing benefits that breastmilk does
  • are actually an additional risk factor for very low birth weight, premature babies.

Mortality rates and the incidence of serious complications drop in hospitals where only breastmilk – mother’s own milk or donor milk – is used.

“Just 50ml of donor milk can feed a baby of under 1kg for 24 hours – and potentially be life-saving!”
– Milk Matters

Who receives the donated breastmilk?

Who Receives the Donated Breastmilk
© Milk Matters – Ethan was born 99 days too soon and weighed only 630g.

Babies in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) in state and private hospitals in the Western Cape may be eligible to receive donor milk from Milk Matters if certain criteria are met.

Screened and pasteurised donor milk is supplied on prescription to hospitals for:

  • Premature babies under 1.5kg – the main recipients
  • Ill and HIV positive infants particularly vulnerable to serious complications

All these babies’ mothers, for various reasons, are not able to supply breastmilk to meet the baby’s needs, albeit it temporarily.

With support many of these mothers can ultimately feed their own baby, no longer needing donor milk.

Criteria are set to control which babies qualify for donor milk so that:

  • breastfeeding by the baby’s own mother is supported rather than undermined
  • access to donor milk is given to babies most at risk of life-threatening complications
  • donor milk is used where it will have the greatest benefit to the largest number of babies

N.B. An HIV positive mother can express and pasteurise her own milk to safely feed her baby and would therefore not usually need donor milk. Pasteurising kills the HIV virus and is easy, safe and inexpensive to do at home.

Why do the babies not get the breastmilk from their mother?

Why do the babies not get breastmilk from their mother
© Milk Matters

The mothers of the recipient babies are unable to provide breastmilk to meet their own baby’s needs for a variety of reasons.

The most common reasons are that the baby’s mother:
• is too ill to breastfeed or express breastmilk for her baby.
• is separated from her baby and unable to supply sufficient milk for while she is absent.
• is on medication that is not safe for the baby.
• has twins or triplets and may initially not have enough breastmilk to feed all her babies.
• has had breast surgery that has affected her milk supply.

In many cases the need for donor milk is a temporary one.

Understanding just how vital breastmilk is for her baby, especially her own milk, motivates a mother to strive to supply milk for her baby.

Education and support is essential to help the mother optimize her milk supply and ultimately, ideally, be able to feed her own baby without needing donor milk or supplementary feeds of any kind.

It should be noted that an HIV positive mother can express and pasteurise her own breastmilk to safely feed her baby and would therefore not need donor milk. Pasteurising kills the HI virus and is easy, safe and inexpensive to do at home.


Thymus gland larger in breastfed than formula fed babies...
The thymus gland, which is a central organ in the immune system, is significantly larger in breastfed infants compared to formula fed infants.

Why is it getting donor breastmilk so important for these babies?

Why is getting breastmilk so important
© Milk Matters – 720g Baby Gabi wears her dad’s wedding ring as a bangle!

Breastmilk is a life-line for these babies. Without it, they may not survive as their systems are too underdeveloped to tolerate breastmilk substitutes.

All babies, but especially premature babies, benefit from the superior nutritional and immunological properties of breastmilk.  If they cannot have their own mother’s breastmilk then donor breastmilk is by far the next best option.

Breastmilk :

  • is the ideal nutrition for all babies
  • is life-saving for any baby who cannot tolerate breastmilk substitutes
  • has unique properties that cannot be copied or duplicated
  • helps reduce the incidence of potentially fatal intestinal infections in premature babies
  • helps premature babies suffering from these intestinal infections to recover and decreases the likelihood of surgery being needed
  • has immune boosting properties thus protecting babies from infection
  • helps sick babies recover more quickly than babies on artificial milks
  • allows for optimum growth, development and weight gain
  • is perfect for babies to digest
  • contains digestive enzymes for intestinal health
  • contains vitamins, minerals and fats that are better absorbed than those in any breastmilk substitutes
  • protects the gut from foreign proteins, which decreases the chance of the baby suffering from allergies.
  • has important substances necessary for brain growth
  • is 100% natural

Who donates breastmilk?

Who donates breastmilk?
© Milk Matters

Healthy, lactating mothers from all communities choose to donate their surplus breastmilk to help babies in need. They know it can give hope and life to babies whose lives are at risk.

Most breastfeeding mothers are able to donate breastmilk. A particularly abundant milk supply is not required in order to donate breastmilk since just a few tablespoons of milk can feed a baby for a whole day.

Remember, by expressing breastmilk for another baby, you will not deprive your baby in any way – in fact, expressing increases milk production.

Breastmilk is produced on a supply and demand basis, so the more milk is removed, the more is made.

Milk Matters welcomes regular small donations of breastmilk just as much as larger quantities. It all goes towards helping babies who desperately need breastmilk. Every drop counts!

All breastmilk donors are screened and the donated breastmilk is screened and pasteurised to ensure the donor milk is safe for the recipient babies.

Having had a baby almost 8 weeks early myself, it meant a lot to help other prem babies, without milk from their moms, by donating milk to Milk Matters, a very special organisation that is very close to my heart.
Michelle S., Breastmilk Donor – Greenpoint

How can I donate breastmilk?