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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Milk Bank?

A milk bank is a formal organisation which facilitates the safe sharing of human milk from donors to recipient babies.

Our milk bank collects and stores donations of human milk from screened, tested donors, and processes it for babies requiring supplement feeding, whether that’s on top of their own mother’s milk, or if they don’t have full access to their own mother’s milk.

What is the cost of the milk?

The milk is FREE to recipients. Whāngai Ora Milk Bank believe that safe, pasteurised donor milk should not cost the whānau of the pēpi that require supplement feeding. Pasteurised donor milk is a short term gift to those recipients and we are grateful to our incredible supporters and volunteers that make this possible. The costs for screening the donors and testing the milk and getting it safely to recipients is quite substantial, so we are very grateful for any financial donations received.

Can you track the milk?

Tracking the source and history of the milk is important to most parents of recipient babies! Our processes ensure we are able to track each pottle of pasteurised breast milk that our recipients receive back to the exact date and batch of pasteurisation, and which donor we received it from and when we received it. While we keep detailed records of all this information, it is important to note that our donors remain anonymous to our recipients. While we prefer that babies receive milk from the same donor, that’s not always possible so they may receive milk from multiple donors.

What is the benefit of milk banking?

Milk banks, like ours, collect and process milk from screened & tested donors, to provide a safe resource for babies needing the milk. This means that new parents who are required to supplement their baby’s feeds, but do not wish to use formula to do so, do not need to try to find their own suitable donor when they are under stress and have a fragile newborn to look after.

Your lead maternity carer, paediatrician or lactation consultant will be able to help you make contact with us to make a plan as soon as you know you are struggling.

Who can access Whāngai Ora Milk Bank?

The milk bank has been set up to serve the pēpi and community within the MidCentral DHB's District, at no cost to the whānau, on referral from their LMC, Lactation Consultant, GP, or well child provider.   If the donor milk is in short supply, we will use our triage system to ensure the most ill and the most premature babies will be supplied first.

What is pasteurisation?

In rare cases, viruses and bacteria can be passed through breast milk, and the testing and screening and pasteurising reduces the risks. Milk, unlike blood and other donated tissues, can be pasteurised while still remaining useful. Pasteurisation is a process of heating the milk to a set temperature for the required period of time to kill any bacteria and denature any viruses that may be present in the milk. All living cells will be destroyed, but the food quality remains excellent and many immunity factors are retained.


Who can be a donor?

Any lactating mother who produces more milk than her own baby needs, and who is willing to undergo blood tests and be screened for their health & lifestyle questionnaire, may register as a donor. 


How are donors screened?

Donors are screened for lifestyle factors, like medications, alcohol and tobacco use, and their risk of blood-borne illnesses.   Then they are sent for blood tests.


What lifestyle questions do you ask your donors?

In addition to the above, they are asked about recent tattoos and blood transfusions (due to the slight risk of infection through these processes) and any potential exposure to Covid-19 and other illnesses during the period of donating.   Every time they deliver milk, they sign a declaration that they have been healthy and have not used a new medication during the period of donation. 


How long may I receive milk?

Since supplies are limited, and since the mother’s own milk is best for her baby, we will probably not supply milk for longer than a few days, depending on circumstances.  We will do our best to help recipient mothers to maximise their own milk supply where possible.  If the mother cannot supply her own milk (e.g. rare medications, or breast surgeries) we will certainly aim to supply donor milk as long as possible, but most likely not for as long as the baby needs milk.  Our aim is to give the recipient baby a good start, and enable the family to have breathing space while the mother increases her own supply or perhaps finds her own milk donor in the community.


How do you decide who gets milk?

We would love to supply milk to all babies in need.  If we do not have enough donors at any particular time, we use a triage system, which means we will supply the smallest and most ill babies, where it will make the biggest difference.   In line with other community milk banks, we aim to support exclusive breastfeeding, so are unlikely to issue milk to babies who have already been given formula.


How can I support the milk bank?

There are many ways to support the milk bank.  If you cannot be a milk donor, then you can support our fundraisers, make a donation of cash or goods needed (wish list coming soon our website), or become a volunteer (eg collecting or delivering milk, collecting empty jars from recipients, answering phone calls or emails, assisting with running our fundraising). Keep checking our website for volunteer positions available.  Even simply spreading the word about the milk bank may help more babies get the milk they need. 

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