Drops That Count

City doctors talk about the importance of human milk banks in helping clinically unwell newborns survive

Pune | Published: September 4, 2013 1:39:29 am

Breast milk is known to be the best food for a newborn. It is also ideally more suited to any infant who is not born as per the required medical parameters. “In such cases,instant milk substitutes or supplements are infused,which do more harm than good to the baby,” says Dr Arti Rajhans,in-charge of the human milk bank at Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital.

The hospital has had a milk bank for over two years and more than 1,000 infants have survived because of the breast milk donated by various mothers. A human milk bank can be defined as an institution established for the purpose of collecting,screening,processing,storing and distributing donated human milk,which is dispensed to newborns who are not the biological offspring of the donor mother. “But this is possible only if the breast milk is collected hygienically,” says Dr Sharad Agharkhedkar,head of the department of paediatrics and in-charge of the human milk bank,which is being launched at D Y Patil Medical College and Hospital.

The first human milk bank was set up by Dr Armida Fernandez at LTMG Hospital at Sion in 1989. Since then the human milk bank has been in most prolific demand particularly in metros.

Dr Umesh Vaidya,in-charge of the NICU at Sahyadri Hospital,Kalyaninagar,which is also launching a human milk bank,emphasises that these banks assist in giving a better chance for survival whereas formula food can expose the child to risks and damage in the long run.

Rajhans points that while pre-term and low-weight babies need constant and adequate supply of human milk,it is this group of high-risk infants who often do not have adequate access to their own mother’s milk. “Factors responsible for this include baby’s separation due to various medical reasons,babies of Caesarean delivery,feeble baby,premature baby’s inability to suckle mother’s breast or cleft palate. Mothers with engorged breast or with flat or inverted nipple or those with highly infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS or TB are also unable to feed their infants,” she says.

Keeping the need of the hour in mind,Dr Sandhya Khadse,HOD of paediatrics at Sassoon General Hospital,says they also have plans to launch their own human milk bank. Here are the answers to some frequently asked questions about human milk banks:

Can any breastfeeding mother be a milk donor?

Yes,provided you don’t smoke or use illegal drugs. All potential donors have to be tested for infections that may be passed on through the milk. Small or sick babies benefit from even the smallest quantities of breast milk,so every drop counts. Premature babies will often start with less than 20ml per day. Most mothers prefer to wait until they and their baby are confidently breastfeeding before they begin to express for the milk bank,although it’s fine to start sooner if you have a large surplus of milk in the early weeks. Then you can continue for as long as you wish.

What health checks do donors undergo?

Breast milk donors are tested for HIV,hepatitis B and C,HTVL I and II (Human T-cell leukemia viruses – rare in India) and syphilis. Donors are also required not to smoke or drink more than two units of alcohol a day,take drugs or consume excessive caffeine.

Why is donor milk pooled?

There are several advantages. First,milk may not always be provided in the volumes needed. Secondly,because breast milk changes with every feed,and from the beginning to the end of every feed,pooling the milk means that it retains an average consistency of all the nutritional components.

Can any baby receive donor milk?

Milk banks are there to supply only to babies with a clinical need. They don’t have the resources to supply milk for healthy,full-term babies. Lactating mothers should breastfeed their baby with their own milk first.

Will I get paid to donate milk?

No. Donors are not paid primarily so that it does not become a commercial activity.

Anuradha Mascarenhas

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