“Why not formula?” | Choosing Donor Breast Milk Over Artificial Milk

Having a premature baby I anticipated there could be some challenges as we began our breastfeeding journey, however nothing quite prepared me for the challenges we would face.

Jett was born at 25 weeks and in the early weeks of his life he had multiple bowel perforations which can be common in premature babies. He was a very sick little baby and because of his gut issue he couldn’t tolerate even the tiniest bit of breast milk. For the first 17 weeks of his life, he was sustained on TPN (Total Parenteral Nutrition) and I expressed 8 – 10 times daily to keep up supply so when he recovered and was well enough I would have milk there for him. During this time my milk supply was up and down, sometimes I would only pump 30mls at a time from both breasts. Whatever I pumped though I froze, then when I ran out of storage space I donated some of my liquid gold to a mother who was unable to breastfeed and fed her baby on donor breast milk.

I hoped that with time and once Jett was able to be put to the breast my supply would increase. Finally when he was 135 days old he was able to breastfeed.

first breastfeed 135 days old

I put my baby to the breast and he took to it like a duck to water. Soon after, we were discharged, fully breastfeeding. I was so happy! 6 weeks later we had a hospital appointment and we were admitted the next day. Jett had lost on average 100gms a week since discharge and he was diagnosed with failure to thrive. Dr’s put it down to him having a bad latch, but I of course thought it was my supply. He was put on full nasogastric tube feeds which meant I had to pump 720mls a day. It didn’t happen. I was lucky to pump 300mls. Instead of resorting to formula, a friend of mine used social networking sites and put the call out for breast milk for us.. I had a woman respond immediately, she came to the hospital 2 days later with about 4L for us.  Over the next 9 days, we weaned the tube feeds and got Jett back on the breast, but he started losing weight again. Upon discharge, Jett was breastfeeding, but still needed 500mls through the NG tube. A scoop of prescription formula was added to fortify EBM to assist with weight gain. I expressed as much as I could, but it still wasn’t enough. I began to rely on milk donors on a daily basis. I had called the milk bank near me and they informed me they charged $80 for 1.1L!! So more posts went up on social networking sites and again more breast milk came flooding in.

Jett was supplemented with donor milk for a total of 6 months. I have been asked many times why not formula? Isn’t it dangerous to give a baby another woman’s milk? While it is true that my son has had formula, it was never given to him to replace breast milk. It was simply given as a calorie booster. I never had any intention of replacing feeds with artificial milk when he can have human milk. The women that donate give full disclosure about their lifestyle, medications etc and have also shown me copies of blood tests. Women that donate their breast milk are as passionate as I am about giving human milk to human babies.

During the 6 months my son was given milk from at least 7 different women. I had a regular donor near where I live and had a few one off donations. The first time I received donor milk, it was from a woman that I had never met. I only spoke to her on the phone after she answered my call on Human milk 4 Human babies Facebook page. It was strange, yet, so natural. She drove to the hospital, I met her at the door we hugged, she gave me the milk and left. She continued to donate to me and eventually we were able to catch up and have a cuppa! My regular donor is a friend of a friend. I have only met her once. Her husband is the one that I picked the milk up from. Another donor was someone from playgroup, who upon finding out I fed bub donor milk offered her frozen stash.

Regardless of how many times I have met the women face to face, I feel like I ‘know’ them and they are all updated online with my son’s progress.

Having a low milk supply has been extremely tough emotionally. I felt like I was failing my baby, not being able to do what is ‘supposed’ to come naturally. Having a sick baby, trying to pump around the clock and still try and breast feed was very stressful and often made my supply issues worse. I will be forever grateful to the wonderful women who donated their precious milk. They gave me the gift of having one less thing to worry about. It took pressure off me in times of very high stress and they have given the greatest gift of nutrition to my son. I wish milk sharing was more widely accepted as the norm.I still struggle with supply so still express (once daily these days) as well as take prescription medication and natural galactologues. With the help of these things we are still breast feeding at 19 months and I hope to continue until we are both ready to stop

breastfeeding 18 months old


  • Jenny

    I wish everyday that I had been able to use donor milk. I was hospitalized for two weeks at six weeks postpartum with my first. Since it was completely unexpected, my husband was left to his own devices to take care of the baby in a second’s notice and went straight for the formula that the hospital had given us. I did everything I could to try and keep my supply and tried every trick in the book after I was discharged to regain my supply but I could barely make an ounce a day. After having failed my homebirth, it was starting to look like I was going to fail at breastfeeding too. That’s when I started the prescription medication to increase supply – if only more women knew this was an option! Insurance of course wouldn’t cover the cost and it was really expensive but I bought the prescription until my daughter turned one year old. At that point, she hadn’t had any formula for 6 months! I would have stayed on the prescription longer if I hadn’t already maxed out the credit cards to pay for my unexpected hospital stays but by the time my milk supply had dwindled to nothing when my daughter was 15 months old, she was drinking cow’s milk fine and eating solids. She was no longer failure to thrive either. I only wished that I could have found donor milk ahead of time so she didn’t have to have those two months of formula at all.

  • Katie T Kruse

    As a Mom of a 29 week baby. I am so proud of you for your commitment to breastfeed. He’s almost 6 months now and we are still pumping and breastfeeding. I had so much milk in the beginning I donated to a mom in need. Thank you for sharing your story. I am inspired to write my own!

  • Alexandra

    Love your story! I’m so happy that you were able to find helpful donors! While I was breastfeeding my daughter I seemed to make JUST enough for her to eat, but never enough to pump to keep some breastmilk in reserve in the freezer for a just in case situation. Luckily a friend of mine who had delivered her daughter just three days after mine was making an AMPLE supply of breastmilk that she was actually looking to get rid of because of lack of storage. It was such a huge help and allowed Dad to feed our daughter on a few occasions. People thought I was crazy to give my daughter someone else’s breastmilk. We knew the donor milk was coming from a healthy mom with her own thriving breastfed daughter and it worked for us! Thanks for sharing your story! Hopefully it will make other mommas aware of breastmilk donation!

  • Morgan Rose

    It’s been four decades since I breast fed my sons, with all the ups and downs of milk supply while managing the cycle of stress and sleepless nights. For my firstborn, La Leche League was my saving grace….keeping me keeping on. One of their most valuable tid bits of wisdom was in recommending brewers yeast to increase milk supply……….. the overdose of B vitamins always did the trick! In fact, within 12 hours of my first “dose” of brewers yeast I was engorged! Thankfully I had a very thirsty baby who gladly sucked up the overflow!

  • Julie Napear

    I am a hopeful adoptive mother and I’ve been looking into milk banks, but the cost and distance seems prohibitive. Thank you for describing the process of how you got connected — I will definitely be looking into the HM4HB page!

  • Abby

    I breastfed both of my children. My son nursed for 15 months, and self weaned when I was 8 months pregnant with his sister, and then she nursed until self weaning at 18 months. Now, I am a milk donor mama. I was a gestational surrogate who delivered a beautiful baby girl on April 5th, 2013. I pumped for her while they were in town, and after they went home I have continued to pump and donate to babies here in town. My milk has fed 10 babies, including my own children, and since April I have donated almost 17 gallons of milk! I really do wish more women knew about this as an option for feeding their babies! I have been so very fortunate to have a great milk supply, and I plan to pump and donate for just as long as I can! Also, I have read your fantastic blog for years, and this is the first time I have chosen to comment.

  • Christina Eubank

    I love this! My milk supply was so low that we had switched to formula when she was only 3 months. I kept trying a few times a day until she was 6 months. It broke my heart that I couldn’t provide more and the idea of giving her formula only really bothered me. I looked into donor milk, but my husband was uncomfortable with it. Its very encouraging to read this.

    I tried a med called “domperidone” and it really did help increase my supply. They no longer sell it at regular pharmacies, but if you find a compounding pharmacy they will get you some. Some will even ship it for you. That’s how I used to get mine.
    Here is some info:

  • Ashley

    Wow, thank you so much for this post. Last time around doctors told us our son was failing to thrive even though he was gaining weight. He was skinny, but he never looked unhealthy and he was very active for how young he was. By three months I’d pretty much given up nursing because the doctor kept insisting that I add more and more formula to his diet and eventually he refused to nurse.

  • Melinda

    My premature adopted son was fed donor breast milk for 18 months. He will be 9 next month, now research shows I was right, formula decreases premature babies IQ 10 points, I could never live with giving him anything else! His donor mommies saved his life and his brain, and there were so many feedings I gave him the last of our stash and didn’t know how I would feed him in three hours, a knock on the door and warm fresh pumped milk with a smile would be standing there. Answer to heartfelt prayers, my tears would fall even faster! Every word he learns, step he takes I know in my heart is due to these women! If I couldn’t produce enough, which I tried so hard, his donor was human not bovine!

  • Erin

    Wow! Congratulations on BFing for so long and under such difficult circumstances. Your love and passion are inspirational.

  • Chelsea

    Your picture of the first time your LO nursed made me tear up. Such a beautiful moment you were able to capture. I am so happy for you that you are able to nurse him at least some of the time, it’s such a special time and such a special bond.

  • Clare Maceachen

    My son (born April 2011) was bf from day 1. He suffered with jaundice. I repeatedly asked the midwife, health visitor and my GP about his colour-I was assured he was fine. Just suffering from bf jaundice. At his 9week vaccination appointment with his own GP we were referred for blood tests because of his jaundice. We were then urgently transferred to Birmingham Children’s Hospital where we were told Harry had been born with liver disease-biliary atresia is when the bile ducts are blocked. Every feed had been poisoning. But, because breastmilk is lower is complex fats than formula, he had still been able to break it down and put some weight on. I was then told that he needed to have prescription formula for every other feed to boost him. This never happened as he refused to take a bottle from me. He carried on being bf until I went back to work. I am convinced that my milk made him the strong, energetic little man he is today. The fact that he had the best start meant that when he needed a liver transplant the day before his 1st birthday, he was fit and strong.

  • Joey

    I wish I had known about this! I had such a low supply with my first, my little guy was supplemented from 6 weeks on and I finally stopped lactating all together. I’m pregnant again and if that happens again I think I’ll definitely try donor milk! Thanks for the idea! <3

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