After two abortions, 36-year-old IT professional Shilpa Govande’s joy knew no bounds when she delivered a boy this July. But she struggled to feed him in the initial days due to what doctors diagnosed as “flat nipples”. “This is why I am now willing to donate my breast milk thrice a day,” says Shilpa, holding her baby close to her chest at Pune’s Sassoon general hospital. There are 47 human milk banks in India with Rajasthan (13), Maharashtra (12) and Tamil Nadu (10) being the leading players, says Dr Satish Tiwari, convenor, Human Milk Banking Association (India). In 1989, the Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General Hospital at Sion in Mumbai, set up the first human milk bank in Asia. Its success prompted several hospitals to follow suit.
In Pune, the first such bank was set up in 2011 at the Deenanath Mangeshkar Hospital. Within two years, D Y Patil Medical College and Hospital in Pimpri and the government-run Sassoon General Hospital set up their own banks — more followed. According to Dr Aarti Kinikar, head of paediatrics at B J Medical College and Sassoon General Hospital, in the last three-and-a-half years, the human milk bank has collected and dispensed 1,625 litres of human milk.
“As many as 13,000 babies have benefited from milk donated by 14,388 mothers. There has been an increase in the collection from 267 litres in 2014 to 478 litres in 2016. In the last six months, 174 litres have been collected,” says Kinikar. Banked human milk is regarded as “next best” after the biological mother’s breast milk, says Dr Sharad Agharkhedkar, who was instrumental in setting up the bank at D Y Patil. This milk, he says, is used for treating many conditions, mainly in Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs), including prematurity, formula intolerance, failure to thrive, immune deficiencies and many congenital anomalies.
“Earlier, out of 4,500 babies delivered every year, 15 to 20 per cent were admitted to the NICU. From 100 babies dying previously, the mortality rate is down, and there are less than 20 babies who die due to other reasons,” says Agharkhedkar. According to Dr Shailaja Mane, head of paediatrics at D Y Patil, milk donation has seen a steady rise — from 222 mothers and 31.8 litres in 2013 to 1,557 donors and 434 litres in 2016. As many as 7,045 babies in paediatric care and 1,965 in the NICU have benefitted across this period, she says.
At Deenanath Mangeshkar, lactation consultant Dr Vishakha Haridas says they have even introduced a home collection unit. With an advanced pasteuriser at the centre, all that mothers have to do is store their milk in a freezer and hand it to over to the collection unit, she says.
Dr Rajan Joshi, head of NICU at Deenanath Mangeshkar, says premature babies who receive donor human milk have less risk of infections. “We have 200 deliveries every month and at times the milk at the bank is insufficient for premature babies. The home collection system has helped tremendously. Over the years, babies dying due to necrotizing enterocolitis has dropped to less than 1 per cent,” says Joshi, referring to a common intestinal inflammation among premature babies. “Breast milk is liquid gold. This is the best gift that all moms can give,” he says.