Twenty-two-year-old Rajeshwari Kaundar delivered her baby at the KEM Hospital in the first week of August. On learning of the hospitals milk bank policy,Rajeshwari readily donated her excess milk produce. To combat neonatal deaths,Dr Armida Fernandez had first set up a milk bank in Sion Hospital,during her tenure as the head of the neonatology department there,in 1989. Drawing inspiration from it,four other hospitals- KEM hospital,Cama and Albless hospital,J J hospital and Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj (CSM) hospital also set up milk banks.
Dr Jayashree Mondkar,head of neonatology at the Sion Hospital,said around 1,200-1,400 litres of milk is collected each year. Around 6,000 babies benefit from the scheme. This milk is given to orphans,babies who cannot suck breast milk or to babies whose mothers cannot produce enough milk. We focus on under-weight and premature ones admitted in Neonatal Intensive Care Units, she said.
Mothers who deliver babies in the hospital often donate milk willingly,she added. However,we first ensure the conditions of the donors health. The donor should not have tuberculosis or AIDS. The milk is pasteurized and stored at – 20 to – 40 degrees, Mondkar said.
The breast milk can be stored for a maximum period of six months. However,according to Dr Ruchi Nanavati,head of neonatology in KEM hospital,the milk is usually consumed within a week of its collection. As opposed to buffalos milk,breast milk has high lactose content. Therefore it provides better immunity and is also easy to digest, Nanavati said.
Rajeshwari,whose baby is yet to be one-month-old,said,If my milk can help other babies,I will be more than willing to donate it. Also,the nurse told me that excess milk leads to congestion.
Anital Pal,30,delivered her baby last month at the KEM hospital. However,because of reasons of her health,her milk produce was not enough for the baby.
My boy,admitted at the neonatal ward here,gets 250-300 millilitres milk daily, she said.
However,the hospitals have not yet initiated a system which would help them deliver milk to babies delivered outside the hospital. Dr Ashok Rathod,head of pediatrtics department of J J Hospital,said,Here,we provide milk to three to four babies daily. but since the donation is less,we do not have the resources to deliver milk to babies outside the hospital.
Sion hospital,with the largest milk bank,provides milk to around 15 babies on a daily basis. However,it too does not have the resources to cater to babies born in maternity homes.
In 2012,Cama Hospital had got donations from 3,568 mothers. Following this,it was able to provide milk to 3,367 babies. Dr Rajshree Katke,the medical superintendent at the hospital,sees this initiative as an attempt to stabilise health of underweight babies born in the hospital.
Hospitals, Year milk bank started,Number of babies provided milk daily,Milk collected in a year (in litres)
Sion Hospital 1989 More than 15 1200-1400
KEM hospital 2005 8 to 10 365
Cama and Albless hospital 2007 9 to 10 200-300
JJ hospital 2007 3 to 4 100-150
Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj hospital 2012 3 to 4 150
Q & A with Armida Fernandez who introduced the milk bank concept in Asia
How did the milk bank concept start here?
Armida: Back in 1980s,there were deaths of many babies due to pre-mature birth. We realised that one of the reasons of it was poor feeding. I happened to visit Oxford in London and observed the milk bank there. Thats when I floated this idea in Sion hospital.
What were the problems you encountered while starting the milk bank?
The hospital was willing to start a milk bank. However,we did not get funding from the BMC for the first three years. Although one years cost came up to five lakhs back in 1989,the civic body was not convinced with the concept. We raised money through donations during that period.
Was it easy to get donors initially?
Oh yes. Even in our hospitals neonatal ward,when any mother saw another baby crying out of hunger,she instantly fed the baby. A mother produces more milk than her baby requires. So they dont mind donating it. Also if a mother accumulates extra milk,it leads to congestion.
Currently,the milk bank caters to only babies born in the
hospital,not the ones born outside.
Our hospitals have limited milk capacity. So priority is given to babies born in the hospital. In the USA,ladies could collect milk at home and deliver it at the hospital in proper containers. In India,the hygiene conditions are so poor that we cannot risk it. She has to come to the hospital for donation in order to avoid contamination.
What is the difference between India and the US as far as a milk bank is concerned?
India lacks the necessary infrastructure. In the USA,the hospital has the proper facilities to parcel the milk to a baby outside the hospital. However,we do not have such an arrangement in India. Also,this has not been widely publicised. In India,milk bank is available in selected cities- Mumbai,Goa,Baroda,Hyderabad,Patna,Pune,Kolkata,etc.