Human Donor Milk or Formula: A Qualitative Study of Maternal Perspectives on Supplementation

Molly R. Rabinowitz, Laura R. Kair, Heather L. Sipsma, Carrie A. Phillipi, Ilse A. Larson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


Background: Breastfeeding is fundamental to maternal and child health and is the most cost-effective intervention to reduce child mortality. Pasteurized human donor milk (HDM) is increasingly provided for term newborns requiring temporary supplementation. Few studies examine maternal perspectives on supplementation of term newborns. Materials and Methods: We conducted semistructured in-person interviews with mothers of term newborns (n = 24) during postpartum hospitalization. Mothers were asked whether they had chosen or would choose to supplement with HDM versus infant formula, if medically indicated, and why. Data were gathered to saturation and analyzed inductively by consensus. Emerging semantic themes were compared between mothers who chose or would choose HDM and those who chose or would choose infant formula. Results: Most mothers had concerns about HDM, including uncertainty regarding screening and substances passed through HDM. Experiences with prior children influenced decision-making. Mothers who chose or would choose HDM (56%, n = 14) praised it as "natural," and some felt suspicious of infant formula as "synthetic." Mothers who chose or would choose infant formula (44%, n = 10) did not know enough about HDM to choose it, and many viewed infant formula as a short-term solution to supply concerns. Mothers unanimously mistrusted online milk purchasing sources, although the majority felt positively about using a friend or family member's milk. Conclusions: Counseling regarding term newborn supplementation should focus on HDM education, specifically on areas of greatest concern and uncertainty such as donor selection, screening, transmission of substances, and mother's milk supply. Research is needed to assess the long-term impact of attitudes and choices on breastfeeding.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)195-203
Number of pages9
JournalBreastfeeding Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Apr 2018


  • Human Milk Banking Association of America
  • breastfeeding promotion
  • donor human milk
  • infant formula
  • newborn supplementation
  • qualitative research

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics
  • Health Policy
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Maternity and Midwifery


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