Donor Milk or Formula: A Qualitative Study of Postpartum Mothers of Healthy Newborns

J Hum Lact. 2017 Nov;33(4):710-716. doi: 10.1177/0890334417716417. Epub 2017 Aug 7.


Background: Many breastfed infants receive supplemental feeds during the birth hospitalization, either by maternal request or due to medical indications. Donor milk from a certified milk bank has become increasingly available and is now used in some settings for term and late preterm infants. No studies have explored maternal opinions about donor milk and formula as options for supplementary feedings. Research aim: This study aimed to explore maternal perceptions about donor milk and formula supplementation and implications for continued breastfeeding.

Methods: The authors conducted semistructured interviews with 30 postpartum mothers of healthy newborns who breastfed and gave supplementary feedings with pasteurized donor milk and/or formula during the birth hospitalization. They analyzed transcripts using the constant comparative method and identified four major themes.

Results: Identified themes included the following: (a) Donor milk is seen as temporary whereas formula is seen as an ongoing plan, (b) formula is viewed as familiar whereas donor milk is viewed as unfamiliar, (c) donor milk is costly and challenging logistically, and (d) donor milk is "healthier."

Conclusion: For mothers who view donor milk as temporary and formula as permanent, the provision of donor milk rather than formula when supplementation is medically indicated may have the potential to promote the return to exclusive maternal breastfeeding. Barriers to the use of donor milk include cost and lack of familiarity and access.

Keywords: Human Milk Banking Association of America; breastfeeding; breastfeeding promotion; human milk; human milk substitute; infant formula.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Breast Feeding / methods
  • Breast Feeding / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Formula / statistics & numerical data*
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Iowa
  • Milk Banks / statistics & numerical data*
  • Milk, Human*
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Perception
  • Postpartum Period
  • Qualitative Research
  • Tissue Donors