Importance of Breast Milk Donations

March 30, 2020

blog watch me bloom, recipes for growing me ~6 months, breast milk donation and why this is important, close up of asian baby being breastfed

The importance of breast milk for infants has been well documented and breastfeeding is considered the gold standard for essential nutrients and protective agents. [i] Check out our last blog for all the amazing “Benefits of Breastfeeding”. But what happens when a mother and baby are unable to breastfeed? There can be several reasons for this, including premature birth (which may be secondary to the shortened period of the mother’s changes in her mammary glands), the stress associated with premature birth, or other causes. [ii] Human Milk Banks are a wonderful option for babies unable to breastfeed, especially those in critical care in the NICU. Essentially, they can provide important microorganisms when breastfeeding is not an option. [iii] 

Human Milk Banks originated in the early 1900s; however, they were subject to scrutiny over the years. They became less popular with the introduction of infant formula, and then many of them shut down after the HIV crisis during the 1980s. Mothers were originally offered money for breast milk, which unfortunately led to a desire to provide as much as possible, thus lowering their own babies intake or contaminating with cow’s milk to provide higher quantities. [iv] Now we know breast milk is preferred over formula when possible for many reasons—including beneficial bioactive components that are not found in formula,and have a positive influence on growth factors and hormones. Also, infant formula can change the gut microbes causing undesired long-term effects. [v]


frozen breast milk in bags shown in freezer

Benefits of Human Milk

Today, donors do not receive compensation for breast milk and donors are required to go through a screening process to rule out infectious diseases potentially being passed on while also ensuring the donor is living a healthy lifestyle. Once the HMB receives the milk, it is stored at -20˚C and then thawed for pasteurization. Although some of the antimicrobial properties are reduced, the donor milk still contains protective mechanisms that can help in the following ways: 

  • Lowers the risk of necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC)–where bacteria invade and damage the wall of the bowel and can be fatal
  • Helps prevent the progression of bronchopulmonary dysplasia (abnormal development of lung tissue common with premature babies)
  • Can lower the risk of retinopathy of prematurity–which can lead to blindness
  • Lowers infection rates
  • Decreases length of stay in the NICU
  • decreases incidence of feeding intolerance and diarrhea [vi] [vii]


newborn baby shown in ICU

Tidbit for your Tiny One

Once the human milk has been pasteurized, it can only be stored at -20˚C for up to one year, hence the need for constant recruitment of donors to these milk banks. To ensure infants that have the greatest need receive it, the breast milk is available by prescription only. Here’s a few things to keep in mind:

  • Hospitalized babies benefit greatly from human milk vs. formula when breastfeeding is not an option
  • Donors are constantly needed to maintain an adequate supply at a Human Milk Bank 
  • Donors are screened to ensure infectious diseases are not passed on through the milk
  • The benefits of human breast milk can be lifesaving to those infants in critical need
  • It is a true act of humanitarianism for donors to provide extra breast milk, as they are not compensated or rewarded for their efforts

Following is a list of the Human Milk Banks in Canada. Additional donor centres are set up throughout Canada and information on the donor sites closest to your area can be found on the websites below [viii]




BC Women’s Provincial Milk Bank
Vancouver, BC

(604) 875-3743​

Calgary Mothers’ Milk Bank
Calgary, AB

Roger Hixon Ontario
Human Milk Bank

Toronto, ON

(416) 586-4800 x 3053

Public Mothers’ Milk Bank
Montreal, QC


Thanks for your time, and remember…. Don’t hog the blog! 
Please share with friends today. 

Have a bloomin’ day!
Sarah & Karen


[i] Panczuk J, Unger S, O'Connor D, Lee SK. (2014) Human donor milk for the vulnerable infant: a Canadian perspective. Int Breastfeed Journal Mar 25 9:4, 1-12. 

[ii] National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. (2010). Donor breast milk banks: the operation of donor milk bank services. NICE Clinical Guideline 93, 1-132.

[iii] Kundisova, L., Bocci, G., Golfera, M., Alaimo, L., Nante, N. (2019). A systematic review of literature regarding the characteristics and motivations of breastmilk donors. Breastfeeding Review; 27 (3), 29-42.

[iv] National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. (2010). Donor breast milk banks: the operation of donor milk bank services. NICE Clinical Guideline 93, 1-132.

[v] &

[vi] Kundisova, L., Bocci, G., Golfera, M., Alaimo, L., Nante, N. (2019). A systematic review of literature regarding the characteristics and motivations of breastmilk donors. Breastfeeding Review; 27 (3), 29-42.


[viii] ©2020 Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health

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