Breast milk donation: how does it work? How to collect and FAQ

drop of breast milk may be small for most people, but for others, this drop can mean saving lives.

The donation of breast milk is still little discussed and encouraged. Because they do not have access to information, many people are unaware of the importance of this gesture for thousands of children and even for the health of women.

As an exercise in empathy or public health action, the donation of breast milk is a necessary attitude.

In the following text, you will understand how this process works and what steps the lactating mother must go through. Good reading!


What is breast milk donation?

It is common for women who are breastfeeding to produce more milk than would be enough to feed their baby. What is not so common is the donation of this milk to other newborns who need it to survive.

The donation of milk is nothing more than a gesture of solidarity between these women and thousands of children who need to receive this milk.

Breast milk is essential for the baby’s health and remains the most suitable, although there are some milk formulas for supplement as an option.

He is our first contact with some kind of food when we are born and he will be the only one, at least, in the first six months of life.

Although Brazil is a reference in relation to the collection structure of the Human Milk Banks, what is collected per year is still not enough to serve all newborns who are in neonatal units.

That is why there are currently campaigns to encourage women who are breastfeeding to donate to those in need. In Brazil, May 19 is considered the National Day of Donation of Breast Milk.

Who receives these donations?

Who receives the breast milk collected in the donation are the Human Milk Banks, which can be maintained by the hospitals where these mothers received care during pregnancy.

In these banks, the milk undergoes an analysis, the pasteurization process and a very strict quality control until it reaches who it really is for.

There are thousands of premature or underweight babies (2.5 kg) who will benefit from donated breast milk.

Babies who suffer from some types of pathologies, such as diseases related to the gastrointestinal tract, and who are unable to be breastfed by mothers also receive this donated breast milk.

In these situations, the baby’s condition is more fragile. Thus, breast milk has the role of nourishing it, so that you gain weight more quickly and that your immunity becomes stronger in the face of possible infections.

Currently, in Brazil, 60% of these children are already able to receive breast milk maintained by the Global Human Milk Network, but the account is not closed. Unfortunately, the remaining 40% are still in need.

That is why the donation has been stimulated with campaigns promoted by the Ministry of Health and NGOs.

For each donated pot, 10 newborns can be fed daily, depending on their weight, 1 ml is enough for each meal.

Benefits of breast milk donation and breastfeeding

There are several benefits present in the whole process of breastfeeding and the donation of breast milk.

The advantages include the health of the baby, the recipient and also the donor. Know the main ones:

For baby

Breast milk is the most recommended food for babies, being enough, at least, until the first six months of life. It is very complete in nutrients, vitamins and antibodies.

Among its benefits for babies, breastfed or given by donation, are the relationship with the prevention of some diseases, such as respiratory infections and diarrhea .

It also contributes to the development of the immune and cognitive systems, with the fats present in breast milk as essential for the newborn’s brain and also for the control of metabolism.

There are studies showing that babies who received breast milk are less likely to develop diseases such as obesity , hypertension and diabetes , for example.

For the donor

Breastfeeding can be a very valuable time in women’s lives. In addition to marking a phase of changes in your routine, it provides some benefits in the long and short term.

Affective value

Several physical aspects help to create a psycho-affective bond between mother and child, such as the moment of breastfeeding.

This skin contact reverberates in hormonal responses as the release of oxytocin, the hormone responsible for regulating the output of milk and increase the temperature of the breasts, leaving the baby more aquecido.Também helps ease the anxiety maternal and make it more quiet .

With the donation of surplus milk to other babies who need it, women can also feel good and rewarded for knowing that their gesture is helping other children to develop in a healthy way, even saving those lives.

Weight loss

During pregnancy there is an increase in weight so that the woman has an energy supply for the new life that is forming.

This reserve is spent during breastfeeding and therefore the woman loses a lot of weight during breastfeeding.

This fat accumulated over the months of pregnancy becomes essential in breastfeeding, as it will be passed on to the baby by milk.

Thus, mother and baby win. With the donation of milk to other children, too.

Prevents disease

In the long run, breastfeeding helps women to prevent various diseases such as breast cancer , type 2 diabetes mellitus, osteoporosis , ovarian cancer and obesity. In addition, breastfeeding women show better recovery after childbirth.

Who can donate?

Considering the condition of who will receive the donated breast milk, it is necessary that the Milk Banks be more rigorous in relation to who will donate.

Therefore, there are some restrictions on women’s health.

During the registration, which must be done before the woman starts to withdraw the milk for donation, there is precisely a process to certify that she will be able to donate.

The following items will be questioned so that she can be part of the donation:

  • Present prenatal or postnatal exams to check if she is in good health;
  • Do not smoke;
  • They should not use drugs that can harm breastfeeding;
  • Do not use alcohol or illegal drugs.

What to do to be a donor?

To be a donor of breast milk, certainly, the first requirement is to be breastfeeding. Not only breastfeeding, but producing a sufficient amount that can be donated but not lacking to feed your own baby.

The second step is to find the nearest Human Milk Bank and register.

Subsequently, she will have to have tests performed during prenatal care or after delivery, so that the Bank is able to assess her health. In addition, information related to your habits, such as the use of drinks, cigarettes and medication, will be questioned.

These factors are important because in these conditions the woman will not be able to make the donation.

In some places, hospitals provide collection teams, who go to the nursing home to take the necessary items for collection and to collect the stored milk. Usually, once a week.

However, this is not always the case. Some women receive guidance and perform the procedure on their own and take it to hospitals on their own, which should not be a problem, because by correctly following the steps, the quality of the milk will not be compromised.

How to prepare the bottle for collection?

The bottle for the collection of human milk must be made of glass and with a plastic cap. Those glass jars of mayonnaise or coffee can be reused.

Some women receive the kit with all the necessary objects from the Milk Banks, but these bottles can also be used.

Before using the bottles, you need to follow the following steps:

  • Remove any labels that may have on the glass and wash it thoroughly with soap and water;
  • Wipe the bottle well using a clean cloth;
  • Place the lid and the glass in a pan with water and boil for 15 minutes, the time must be counted from the beginning of the water boil;
  • Unplug the pan and drain the water, leave the glass and lid, both facing downwards, on a clean surface to dry;
  • Do not use a cloth to dry the lid and the glass, wait for the water to drain completely. Use when they are completely dry.

How does milking work?

The procedure for expressing milk is called milking and must be done following a series of recommendations, to ensure that milk is preserved and that it does not suffer contamination.

Personal hygiene care

Breast milk for donation should be milked after the mother finishes breastfeeding her baby or when her breasts are very full.

During this process some care with hygiene must be taken. Ideally, the woman should be in a quiet and clean place.

It is also recommended that the hair be attached, that the nails are attentive – they must be very clean – and that, if possible, cover the mouth with a cloth, so that there is no contamination by saliva.

The woman should also wash her hands and forearms very well, washing with soap and water and drying in a very clean towel.

It is not necessary to wash the breasts with soap, but the woman must wash them with water and dry them with a clean towel.

How to express breast milk

To remove the milk, the woman must start a circular and gentle massage around the areola, that more pigmented circular part in the breasts, close to the nipple

The withdrawal, however, can be done in two ways, manually (using your hands) or using a pump.

With the hands

To remove the milk using her hands, after doing the stimulation with the massage, the woman must support the index finger on the areola and, with a firm hand on the breasts, make a pressure movement in the direction of her own body.

She should make this movement of compressing her fingers several times until the milk starts to come out. The first jets should not be stored and, after discarding that first amount of milk, she can begin to collect in the appropriate bottle.

With breast pump

One option for milking milk is to use the breast pump. Some women prefer this object because it can be more practical than removing it manually, as it is an object that promotes greater suction than hand movements.

There are two types of breast pump, manual and electric:


The manual breast pump can be advantageous because the pressure and rhythm of the pump is the woman.

Before being used, it must also be sterilized very well. Some women may be in doubt about possible pain. What is known is that, in theory, it should not hurt or cause great discomfort.

Just as breastfeeding the baby can cause some pain, the breast pump can also. However, it is necessary to observe the position in which this procedure takes place, often this is the reason for discomfort.

One of the advantages of this model, in relation to the electric pump, is its price and practicality, as it can be taken with the woman to other places. Another benefit is that it makes no noise.

Before starting to use the pump, it is also essential that the woman massage the breasts, to facilitate the withdrawal of milk.


The electric pump or battery is an interesting alternative for women who experience pain in their hands when performing repetitive movements to express breast milk.

It is more expensive than the manual and presents a version that is to be used at home and another hospital.

The hospital is even more expensive and so it would not be very useful to buy it. In some hospitals, women are able to use them.

The biggest advantage is that it is much faster and the woman can express the milk from both breasts at the same time.

How to store?

The initiative of wanting to donate is already a big step in the breast milk donation campaign. However, just as important as the good intention is to make sure you follow the steps correctly, so that the milk is not wasted.

About 30% of the donated milk is lost during the donation process, between collection and the newborn.

After the woman finishes the milking process, she should cover the bottle and take it to the freezer or freezer. There, he can stay for up to 15 days, without risk of spoiling.

The ideal is that the bottle is not filled to the rim, with a space of about 2 or 3 fingers to the lid.

It is very likely that the first bottle of milk is not complete. In this case, the woman must use another sterilized bottle for a new collection and then she can add this milk to the one in the freezer.

However, you need to be very careful with this procedure. Once the milk is frozen, it should not be defrosted.

After the collection and with the frozen milk, it is possible to contact the human milk bank where you registered. It may be necessary to take the milk to the hospital, but some hospitals have a team to search for the donation at the woman’s home.

What is cross-breastfeeding and what are the risks?

Cross-breastfeeding is when a woman chooses to donate breast milk directly to another baby. This practice is no longer as common today and is strongly contraindicated by bodies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ministry of Health.

In addition to offering risks to the baby’s health, such as the possibility of transmitting infectious diseases such as AIDS , cross-breastfeeding is also a risk for women. When performing this procedure, they also become vulnerable to infections.

It was during the 1980s and 1990s that a stronger concern about this procedure began, due to the emergence of many AIDS cases.

Historically, this form of breastfeeding is not something to be proud of, as it was a practice carried out by the so-called wet nurses , during the slavery period in Brazil.

At first, this task was aimed at young Indians, and later on it passed to black women, who breastfed the children of white women.

It took a long time for cross-breastfeeding to be really understood as an unhealthy practice. Today, women who have surplus milk production must seek guidance from hospitals so that they can register with a Human Milk Bank.

The same should happen with women who are unable to breastfeed. They need, in the first place, to seek help from the Human Milk Banks, as breast milk, even if donated, should always be the first option, before any supplement.

Difference between donated milk and milk received in cross-breastfeeding

The main difference between these two milks is in the fact that the milk collected by the Human Milk Banks is much safer.

In the donor’s register, there is already a selection to make sure about the woman’s health and, after the donation, this milk undergoes treatments, is pasteurized and becomes exempt from disease transmissions.

Even when the woman is healthy and with all the prenatal and postpartum exams up to date, it is by no means advisable to carry out cross-breastfeeding, even with women in the same family, this does not make them immune transmission or contamination.

Common questions

The donation of breast milk includes several steps that must be followed to preserve the health of the baby, mother and child who will receive the donation.

From the milking process until the milk reaches the patient who needs it, there is a way. Among this space some doubts tend to arise. See what are the most frequently asked questions:

With the donation, is there any risk of breast milk drying out?

No, what happens is just the opposite. It is possible that some women have a certain fear of donating breast milk when they do not produce in excess quantity. For this reason, they can interpret that they cannot donate.

Milk production depends on emptying the breasts. Thus, the more the woman breastfeeds or performs milking, the greater the amount of milk she will produce.

How many times can a woman donate breast milk?

There is no minimum or maximum number of times that the breastfeeding mother can donate. Each body behaves differently and women who are breastfeeding do not produce the same amount of milk. It depends on several factors.

What is known is that the more milk production is stimulated, the greater will be its production. That is, the more a woman breastfeeds and stimulates her breasts for donation, the more milk she will produce and be able to donate.

If a woman’s desire is to continue donating while producing milk and breastfeeding, she can do so.

How much milk should be donated?

There is no minimum quantity. Any amount can be donated. Therefore, it is not necessary for the donor to worry about donating full bottles, thinking that it may be insufficient, as only one bottle of 1mL is already able to help 10 children a day.

What will make the difference is the number of women who participate in the donation of milk and not necessarily the amount that each one is donating. Although small, any donation is welcome.

How to find the nearest breast milk bank?

The woman who wants to donate breast milk can go to the hospital where she performed her prenatal care and give her advice to find out if it is possible to make this donation there.

In addition, the Ministry of Health, on its website , provides a list of addresses so that you can contact Human Milk Banks in all regions of Brazil.

How is transportation to hospitals done?

The transport of breast milk is done in isothermal boxes and with recyclable ice, to preserve the temperature.

In order to remain refrigerated, the bottles of human milk must be at a maximum temperature of 5ºC and, for frozen, they must be at -3ºC or less.

Of course, this is the ideal procedure, but it can vary, depending on the form of transport and who is transporting it.

Just as there are teams that look for the weak in the donor’s home, there is also the fire department that can assist in this task. However, some women need to take it to the milk bank on their own.

Therefore, in any of the options, the time between the withdrawal of milk at the donor’s house and the entrance to the Milk Banks should not be longer than 6 hours.

After going through the pasteurization process, the milk should also not take more than 6 hours to reach the newborn that will receive the donation.

Are milk from milk banks weaker?

No, this is a myth in relation to breast milk, whether donated or not. There is no weaker or stronger breast milk. Even women who have diseases like anemia are able to produce good, healthy breast milk.

Although breast milk has a thinner appearance at the beginning of breastfeeding, it contains all the essential nutrients for the baby’s health. It has this appearance because it has more water in its composition.

Although this initial milk is more watery, it has significant amounts of defense factors, vitamins and minerals, that is, it is not weak.

At the end of breastfeeding, breast milk changes, bringing a fuller feature, so to speak, this is because it is thicker and rich in fat, a factor that contributes to the baby gaining weight in a healthy way.

In this article we discuss the main benefits of donating human milk and how this process should be carried out.

Take advantage of the comment space to leave your opinion on this very supportive practice and don’t forget to share this information with your friends and family!