26 FAQs On Breast Milk Pumping, Storage, And Donation To Human Milk Banks

Breast milk pumping is a great option if your baby is unable to latch; also if you want to donate excess breast milk for babies deprived of it.

The first milk bank in our country was established in Mumbai in the year 1989. Even then, human milk banks and breastmilk donation processes are unknown to the majority of the population. Thankfully, now there are several lactation specialists, who educate mothers on the importance of breast milk, breast milk pumping, the breast milk donation process, and the milk banks. I was educated about these on a similar basis too.

I hail from Chennai, Tamil Nadu. When I became a new mum, my baby had latching issues and I was unaware that it could be solved. Hence I resorted to breast milk pumping and fed my baby with the expressed milk.

Over a period of time, I established a good milk supply and started storing the excess milk in the refrigerator. At that time, a dear friend of mine explained to me about the milk banks and the milk donation process. Though hesitant initially, I learned that there are many babies deprived of breastmilk, and I understood how the donated milk will be used to feed those babies. Upon realizing its significance, I donated my excess milk to the milk bank. Fortunately, I was able to donate around 35 litres of milk throughout my breastfeeding journey.

The specialty of a human milk bank is that you needn’t go to their place to donate. Though there are few milk banks that have their own pumping machine and require mothers to go in person and pump, the majority of the other milk banks don’t have such criteria.

I never faced issues in donating my excess milk while I was in Chennai. But when I went to Madurai, my in-law’s place, I couldn’t find a way to donate my milk packets. The Government Rajaji Hospital Madurai had a milk bank but it required me to go there in person and pump in their machine. It was COVID time and was not a feasible option for me. Also, my baby was too small yet.

Fortunately, my cousin provided me with the contact of a lactation specialist in Coimbatore – Rajeswari Senthil. She supported me with the safe transportation of my excess milk packets, to a city 215 km away from my place, in a cooler box. That’s when I realized that there are many good souls who are working dedicatedly to provide a healthy start to newborns. Hats off to her efforts and support to all new moms.

Having been through the phases of breastfeeding, breastmilk pumping, and milk donation, I would like to elaborate on every step of the process to provide insight to new moms.

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An important note to mommies: Breastmilk donation is all about giving your excess milk. Hence make sure that your baby is fed full enough before you decide to donate.

Breast milk pumping

What is breast milk pumping?

Breastmilk pumping is the process of pumping/expressing the breastmilk from your breast using a breast pump. The pumped milk is then fed to the baby via feeding bottles. It is an alternative method to the direct breastfeeding process.

Why and when should you do breast milk pumping?

Each mum lands into the pumping phase under different circumstances. Not mandatorily every mum should pump her breastmilk. The need for pumping arises only for the following reasons:

  • While you are away from your baby not being able to feed directly
  • To maintain consistency in your milk supply
  • Something didn’t go well with direct breastfeeding
  • Your baby isn’t able to breastfeed right from birth
  • You have more than one baby

How does breast milk pumping help in maintaining a good milk supply?

Your body produces breastmilk based on a supply-and-demand basis. The amount of breastmilk produced depends on how often it is extracted from the breast and how much. In case you don’t feed your baby for a long period of time, or if your baby doesn’t empty your breasts at each feed, your body will assume that there is no need to produce more breastmilk. Hence it is a good habit to pump your breast after each feeding session if you feel your breasts aren’t empty. This will signal your body that more milk needs to be produced.

How to choose a breast pump?

There are several breast pumps available in the market, manual and electrical. Both pumps are equally effective in extracting breastmilk. You can select a pump of your choice depending on your budget, necessity, and frequency of pumping.

What is a manual pump?

Manual pumps are hand-operated. They don’t require electricity. It can be used only for one breast at a time. Place the pump over your breast with one hand, and use the other hand to pump. It is budget-friendly and easily portable. You can prefer manual pumps if you are planning to pump less frequently.

What is an electric pump?

Electric pumps are operated either through electricity or a battery. Both single and double breast pumps are available, meaning you can pump either one or both breasts at a time. These pumps will be suitable for moms who pump very often. Electric pumps are costlier than manual pumps, but it is faster and is time-saving.

If am exclusively breast milk pumping, how frequently should I pump in a day?

It depends on how frequently your baby will need milk. If your baby is hungry every three hours, make sure you pump once in three hours.

How much time should I pump each side?

Ideally, it’s enough to pump each side for 15 to 20 minutes. This duration is not a hard and fast rule. You can stop pumping a little longer than or as soon as the milk stops coming from your breast.

What are the basic procedures to be followed while pumping breastmilk?

Make sure to clean the breast pump and all of its parts thoroughly after each use. You can also buy a sterilizer if you can afford it.

Breast milk storage

Can I store the freshly expressed milk for future use?

Yes, you can store the freshly expressed milk in the refrigerator/freezer and use it at a later time. Breastmilk storage bags and breastmilk storage containers are available in the market for this purpose.

How to store the breastmilk in storage bags or containers?

Simply pour the freshly pumped breastmilk into the storage bags or containers and refrigerate them. Each bag/container has a label to write down the date and time at which you pumped the milk. Fill in those details using a marker pen without fail. These details might be useful if you later decide to donate your excess breastmilk.

What is the procedure to store the expressed milk at home?

If you are planning to feed the expressed milk to your baby in less than 4 hours after pumping, you can close the bottle and leave it at room temperature. You can then feed your baby with the expressed milk in that 4-hour time frame.

If you are planning to feed the expressed milk to your baby at a later time, you have to refrigerate/freeze the milk.

How to store your expressed milk at work or while traveling?

If there is no facility to refrigerate your milk, you can use a cooler bag/box to store the breastmilk safely. Add frozen ice packs to the cooler bag and place the breastmilk packets inside it. The breastmilk in the cooler bag will remain good for up to 24 hours after pumping. After 24 hours in a cooler bag, make sure to take the milk out and refrigerate/freeze it.

How soon the expressed milk should be refrigerated?

Freshly expressed breast milk can be kept at room temperature (77 degrees Fahrenheit/25 degrees Celsius or colder) for up to 4 hours. If you are not going to feed your expressed milk to your baby immediately or within the next 4 hours after pumping, it is a better practice to refrigerate or freeze it as soon as possible.

When should I refrigerate my expressed milk and when should I freeze it?

If you plan to feed your baby with the expressed milk within 4 days of pumping, you can refrigerate it. Otherwise, it is a better practice to freeze it immediately.

What is the validity of my expressed milk?

Under clean conditions, freshly expressed or pumped milk can be stored:

  • At room temperature (77°F or colder) for up to 4 hours.
  • In the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  • In the freezer for about 6 months is best; up to 12 months is acceptable.

What are the other storage tips that I should take care of?

  • It is a better practice to avoid storing the milk packets in the door of the fridge or freezer. This will ensure that the milk packets aren’t affected by the temperature changes during the opening and closing of the door.
  • If you will not use the milk packets within the next four days, then it is better to freeze them right away.

The milk storage bag is big. I can fill it only after three or four pumping sessions. In that case, can I combine the breastmilk and store it in one bag?

You can combine the breastmilk only if it is collected on the same day. Please do not combine breastmilk pumped on different days. If the donated milk is for premature or sick babies, it is better to talk to your lactation specialist before combining your milk.

How to add freshly pumped milk to a refrigerated milk packet?

First, cool your freshly pumped milk in the refrigerator for an hour. Once it is cooled, you can add it to the refrigerated milk packet.

Can I add freshly pumped milk to the frozen milk packet?

No, please don’t add freshly pumped milk to the already frozen milk packet. Please use a separate packet instead.

How to thaw the breastmilk and feed my baby?

Take the frozen or refrigerated milk packet/bottle and just swirl it in a bowl of warm water until it comes to room temperature. Never boil the breastmilk in the microwave or in boiling water. It will damage the nutritional value of the milk.

What is the validity of the thawed breastmilk?

2 hours. Feed your baby with the thawed breastmilk within two hours. If there is any leftover thawed milk, throw it away. Do not refreeze or refrigerate the breastmilk once thawed.

Donation process to a human milk bank

What is a human milk bank?

A human milk bank is a service that collects excess breastmilk from healthy lactating mothers and stores them. The stored milk is then given to needy babies, upon the doctor’s prescription.  It works similar to the blood banks.

Will there be any mothers who get milk from milk banks and feed their babies? Why would they do so?

There are many babies who are deprived of breastmilk. Especially preterm babies, babies who are fragile by birth, babies whose mom’s couldn’t lactate due to health issues, or babies whose moms are no more. Families of such needy babies, can contact the milk banks with a doctor’s prescription and take the donor milk.

How would we know that the donated milk in the milk bank is safe and hygienic for infants?

Firstly, healthy lactating mothers who are willing to donate their breastmilk to the milk bank have to undergo a blood test. Those tests are to screen the donor for hepatitis B surface antigen, hepatitis C, HIV, HTLV, and RPR.

Once the donor clears the screening process, the milk banks accept their extra milk. Every milk sachet received from the donors is screened and tested for safety. The milk is then pasteurized (heated to a higher temperature) to remove any bacteria or germs from the milk. The pasteurized milk is then frozen for use. So donor milk is safe and hygienic for babies in all aspects.

Although some nutrients are broken down during the pasteurization process at the milk bank, it is still a better choice for babies with health complications.

How to donate my excess milk to the milk bank?

  • Pump your excess breastmilk and freeze them in storage bags under clean conditions.
  • Contact your lactation specialist. She will assist you with the storage process, nearby milk bank, and prescribe a blood test for you.
  • Take the blood test. If your reports are clear, you are eligible for breastmilk donation.
  • Share the reports of the test with the lactation specialist/milk bank.
  • Once you collect a specific quantity of breastmilk, volunteers from the milk bank will come to your place to collect your milk sachets.

Where to check out further on the breastmilk donation drive?

Rajeswari Senthil’s site has many more details on breastmilk donation. The list of milk banks in Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry is also mentioned here.

Image source: Frank Flores on Unsplash


About the Author

Gayathri Venkatesan

Instructional Designer by profession; Writer by passion. A self sculpting mother exploring life in various dimensions. read more...

15 Posts | 8,218 Views

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