Helping Parents Understand The Value of Donor Milk For Their Premature Infant

As a clinical professional in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) or pediatrics, you may be tasked with providing donor milk to your infant patients during their stay. It’s a common occurrence and for good reason – human milk has exponential health benefits in the short- and long-term.

Oftentimes a mother will have intentions to breastfeed. But a premature birth or other health issues may make it impossible or cause a delay. That’s where donor milk fills the gap. It provides the disease-fighting nutrition immunocompromised infants need, while supporting their growth and recovery. The good news is providing donor milk does NOT reduce the occurrence of mothers breastfeeding later (it actually increases it!). Offering donor human milk was associated with higher exclusive breastfeeding at discharge.

It’s understandable why parents question donor milk use. What they may not understand is why human milk overall is important to an infant’s health outcomes. This is especially true when mother’s own milk is not available or does not yet provide the volume their baby needs.

You can help them understand from your clinical perspective, and with these helpful tips.

1. Educate parents on the health benefits of an exclusive human milk diet

The health benefits of an exclusive human milk diet are many. Educating parents on these benefits is key to helping them understand and appreciate the value of providing their own milk and of using donor milk as needed to achieve an exclusive human milk diet. A few examples of how human milk feeding improves outcomes:

  • Breastfed premature infants have better psychomotor development at ages 2 – 5 than non-breastfed children[1]

  • There is a positive relationship between quantity of breast milk and neurodevelopment[2]

  • A 12% decrease in mortality in breastfed infants compared to non-breastfed[3]

  • Protection against infectious diseases[4]

  • Improves gut health and feeding tolerance

The list goes on. It is important to support a mother’s choice and/or circumstances. If she cannot or chooses not to pump or breastfeed, this information can ease her concerns about the use of donor milk while her infant is hospitalized.

2. Continue to encourage mothers to provide their own breast milk

Mother’s own milk is the best nutrition option for infants. Explain to parents how unique a mother’s milk can be for her own baby, especially for a preterm baby. Preterm milk contains more protein than term milk along with other essential nutrients.

Provide parents with resources to support successful breastfeeding outcomes, and if possible, refer them to a lactation consultant. Access to breastfeeding support and education is critical for the best breastfeeding outcomes. Research has shown that all forms of lactation support when analyzed together demonstrate a positive impact on breastfeeding outcomes.[5] In the meantime, explain that donor milk is the next best substitute as it maintains an exclusive human milk diet.

3. Provide information on how donor milk is processed for safety

Donor milk from reputable sources is processed according to industry standards. The process begins with the donor, who goes through a blood screening to verify no infections are present. It can give NICU parents great peace of mind to understand the donor screening process, and how the milk is tested, sterilized or pasteurized, and packaged. Share donor milk parental resources with them to help them become familiar with the concept and encourage active discussion on what is best for their baby.

4. Encourage continued donor milk use after discharge as needed

Your support and efforts to educate parents will go a long way in helping them to feel more comfortable with the use of donor milk for their baby. And once their baby is ready for discharge, they can continue its use as needed to supplement feeding instead of opting for formula. Companies like Medolac offer donor milk to parents through a prescription process that allows them to continue exclusive human milk feeding at home.

As a clinical professional, you inform and educate parents on their baby’s care. Helping them to also understand the benefits of human milk feeding, and an exclusive human milk diet, can go a long way towards improving outcomes for their premature infant and making parents feel more comfortable with the notion of donor milk. At the end of the day, we all want to help every baby go home with the best health outcomes possible.

Medolac donor milk products are hermetically sealed and shelf stable. That means no freezing or thawing necessary! Learn more about the Benefit human milk-based nutrition line for NICU infants.


1. Rozé JC, Darmaun D, Boquien CY, Flamant C, Picaud JC, Savagner C, et al. . The apparent breastfeeding paradox in very preterm infants: relationship between breast feeding, early weight gain and neurodevelopment based on results from two cohorts, EPIPAGE and LIFT. BMJ Open (2012) 2:e000834. 10.1136/bmjopen-2012-000834

2. Vohr BR, Poindexter BB, Dusick AM, McKinley LT, Wright LL, Langer JC, et al. . Beneficial effects of breast milk in the neonatal intensive care unit on the developmental outcome of extremely low birth weight infants at 18 months of age. Pediatrics (2006) 118:e115–23. 10.1542/peds.2005-2382

3. Jeeva SM, Bireshwar S, Ranadip C, Nita B, Sunita T, Jose M, et al. Optimal breastfeeding practices and infant and child mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Acta Paediatr. (2015) 104:3–13. 10.1111/apa.13147

4. Tackoen M. [Breast milk: its nutritional composition and functional properties]. Rev Med Brux. (2012) 33:309–17.

5. Renfrew MJ, McCormick FM, Wade A, et al. Support for healthy breastfeeding mothers with healthy term babies. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2012;CD001141.