In 2010, the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) published guidelines for the running of milk banks in the UK. Although there are no hard-and-fast rules for babies who can receive donor milk, it is a precious resource and so its use is concentrated on babies who will benefit most. These include very premature babies (born at <32 weeks), those who have had surgery on their intestines, babies with major heart abnormalities, and babies who have a sibling who is receiving donor milk. Parents can also request the use of donor milk, and we would be happy to support you with information for healthcare professionals or the latest evidence related to the advantages of donor milk:
When a mother is unable to provide any or enough of her own breastmilk, donor breastmilk is often the preferred alternative to infant formula (or artificial milk). This is because donor breastmilk still contains many of the protective factors (such as immunoglobulins) which help protect premature babies from infection and are not present in formula which is prepared from cow’s milk.
Donor breastmilk may also have a protective role against the serious gut condition necrotising enterocolitis which mainly affects premature babies. Babies who receive breastmilk alone are at a significantly lower risk than those who receive formula, but the reasons for this remain unclear.
A preterm baby’s intestine is very immature and can digest and absorb breastmilk more easily than formula milk. Premature babies are fed small amounts of breastmilk to help their gut mature and the volumes fed are increased gradually. This is also true for babies who have had surgery on their gut.