Where Does the Milk Come From? An Interview with Mother’s Milk Bank

  • 5
  • August 19, 2016
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It has been well over ten years since I last breastfed a baby, but I remember it like it was yesterday. Those first few days at home, after being so well cared for in the hospital, were scary. Here I am, with this sweet little baby boy, depending on me for everything. Talk about completely overwhelming. But within a few weeks we settled into a rhythm that comforted us both.  After numerous visits from my friends who had recently had babies, I knew there was another job to be done. I knew in order to gain a little freedom I needed to become best friends with my breast pump. Yup, I knew I needed to fill my freezer with liquid gold, so eventually, I could wander out into the world without baby, and know that he would be nourished and content. It was hard work getting those extra ounces pumped, properly stored, and into the freezer. It was so comforting to know those precious ounces were there.

Just recently I came across an article about a breast milk bank located in San Jose, CA. that was helping provide breast milk to babies in Las Vegas.  How does that work? I had never heard of a breast milk bank before. Could you do that? I mean, it makes sense; in centuries past, new mothers employed wet nurses, but this seemed different. In this instance, moms were generously donating their breast milk to help other moms’ babies. Could I have been of assistance to some wee baby in need? Who would have received the benefit of my generous donation? I was intrigued by the thought of donating breast milk and set out to learn more. Here is my interview with Eleanor Grant from Mother’s Milk Bank.

Doula Spot:

Who are the clients of Mother’s Milk Bank?

Mother’s Milk Bank:

We primarily send donor human breast milk to NICUs in 13 States, for premature infants; however, we do have some older babies that also receive the milk. These babies receive the milk for a number of reasons – mom is unable to breastfeed due to mastectomy, foster babies that were born to drug-addicted parents, babies that are failing to thrive.

Doula Spot:

What are some of the reasons people contact Mother’s Milk Bank?

Mother’s Milk Bank:

Their child is not thriving or any number of reasons, as stated above.

Doula Spot:

Do hospitals contact you or just individuals?

Mother’s Milk Bank:

Hospitals make up the majority of our recipients; however, we do have a large number of private recipients as well.

Doula Spot:

What is your service area? Is there a network of other milk banks Mother’s Milk Bank works with? How do you support each other?

Mother’s Milk Bank:

Mothers’ Milk Bank in San Jose is currently the only non-profit in CA and we service 13 States, as far reaching as the East Coast. The MMB is part of HMBANA, a network of 16 non-profit milk banks that are spread out across the US. We support each other by providing milk if supply is low in any given area and collaborate to spread our message.

Doula Spot:

Can any baby be fed with any mother’s milk?

Mother’s Milk Bank:

Yes, however, if they are going to receive the milk from the MMB there must be a medical necessity.

Doula Spot:

How does a breastfeeding Momma donate milk? What steps are involved?

Mother’s Milk Bank:

A mom that is interested in donating milk will first call the MMB to be pre-screened. This process takes about 5 minutes, where she is asked some basic questions about her health, travel history, medication etc. If she passes this step, she is then sent our Donor Packet. In the packet it goes into more detail about her health and the health of her baby. There are also 2 doctors notes included: 1 for the Pedi (just to let them know she plans on donating) and 1 for the OB. The form for the OB is to see if she has had some blood tests done recently and what the results were. The last step in the process to become a donor consists of a blood test that is done at our expense. As soon as we have the lab work back we schedule to pick up her milk.

Doula Spot: 

What is the screening process for Mommas who would like to donate? Do you test milk to determine if drugs or alcohol were used?

Mother’s Milk Bank:

The mom is asked to submit to a blood test and we are in contact with her doctor. We do not test the milk for drugs or alcohol. We test for bacteria levels once the milk gets to the MMB. Due to the MMB being a non-profit and that the moms are not compensated financially for their donation, we find that this keeps them honest with regards to their drug or alcohol use.

Doula Spot:

Does the chemical make-up of milk change as it sits? Are there any sanitation practices you would like to share with the general public for safe pumping and storage?

Mother’s Milk Bank:

We ask that our donors put the milk straight into the freezer after pumping. They have up to 24 hours after expression to get it into the freezer, but the quicker the better to retard any bacterial growth. With regards to safe pumping and storing, cleanliness of the pump and equipment is key to keeping bacteria levels low and the milk as safe as possible. In the 40 years the MMB has been in service we have not had one sick baby due to donor human breast milk!


Marian Williams is Doula Spot’s social media and marketing manager. After retiring from a 17-year nanny career, Marian now focuses her time helping start ups create a voice in the social media world. When Marian isn’t glued to a device, she plays taxi driver, chef, house keeper, personal assistant …otherwise known as “Mom,” to her amazing 10-year old son, Wyatt.

Mothers’ Milk Bank is a 501(c)(3) non-profit tissue bank providing safe and processed breast milk for babies and others who are under the care of a health care professional.

This organization, known as the San Jose Mothers’ Milk Bank, was established in 1974 in San Jose, California to collect excess breast milk from volunteer breastfeeding mothers , store the breast milk for optimal nutritional value, process the breast milk to remove viruses and bacteria that may cause illness and distribute donor human milk to hospitals and families.

As a charter member of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA), our standards of processing donated breast milk is the basis of operation for milk banking organizations. Mothers’ Milk Bank is licensed as a Tissue Bank in California and Maryland and registered with the FDA.

*Photo by Paul 

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