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Kerala Gets its First Milk Bank but is Donor Milk Safe for Babies? Here's All You Need to Know

Image for representation. (Credit: Reuters)

Image for representation. (Credit: Reuters)

The concept of a human milk bank is not entirely new in India. The first of its kind came up some 3 decades back in Mumbai's Sion Hospital in 1989.

Come this Friday, Kerala will get its first of a kind human milk bank titled ‘Nectar of Life’ at the Ernakulam General Hospital in Kochi, the state’s health minister KK Shailaja announced on Tuesday.

The initiative will ensure breast milk is made available to newborns and infants who couldn’t be breastfed by their mothers due to various reasons such as sickness or low production of milk or untimely death, leaving the babies in need of milk. The milk bank will be set up with the support of the Rotary Club of Cochin Global.

“Providing the low birth-weight premature babies, infants whose mothers are unable to provide sufficient milk and babies separated from mothers due to many reasons with the pasteurized breast milk from the bank will reduce the risk of infections and boost their immunity," said Dr Paul PG of Rotary Cochin Global.

India’s First Human Milk Bank

The concept of a human milk bank is not entirely new in India. The first of its kind in Asia came up some 3 decades back in Mumbai’s Sion Hospital in 1989. The hospital’s facility provides between 800 to 1200 liters of human milk every year to newborns and infants in their Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. The hospital’s milk bank now also serves as a zonal centre that helps to build and develop new milk banks in the western part of the country.

WHO-backed Alternative

The practice of donating breast milk has been traced to wet nursing. Back in the 1960s, the advancement made under neonatal care and baby food formula led to a decline in milk banking for infants but some twenty years later in 1980, the WHO and UN’s Children’s Fund collectively spoke on the preference of donor milk as compared to baby forumulas in case of an alternative to mother’s milk. The recent methods of improved screening has again made donated breast milk as a preferred option because with proper caution, breast milk can be stored for upto 8 months.

Milk Banks Across India

There are several milk banks across India that have come up in the past several years. They include Divya Mother Milk Bank in Rajasthan’s Udaipur, Deena Nath Mangeshkar Hospital and Research Centre in Pune, SSKM Hospital in Kolkata, Institute of Child Health in Chennai’s Egmore, King Edward Memorial Hospital (KEM) in Mumbai’s Parel, Amara Milk Bank (in collaboration with Fortis la Femme) in New Delhi, King George’s Medical University (KGMU) in Uttar Pradesh among others. There are currently a little over 50 human milk banks in India, a report by American Academy of Pediatrics said.

Why Go for Donor Breastmilk?

There are several reasons why one could choose to opt for donor milk for their infants. Often,

a biological mother might experience low breastmilk production and that can be supported by donor breast milk. In case the lactating mother is on medications that might cause hindrance to breastfeeding, she can opt to feed her infant using donor milk.

Who Can Donate Breastmilk?

Lactating mothers who are healthy and usually produce more milk than what their babies can use can definitely donate. But there are certain health guidelines that have to be kept in mind before that. There are certain tests mothers are made to undertake and one’s medical history is also noted down for future references. These measures usually ensure safety of the donated milk and thus the baby. The donor mothers are asked to register and go through a screening proces, upon which pasteurisation and testing of the milk is done. It is then stored in freezer and given to babies as a prescription demands.

The Kerala milk bank, like all others will also maintain and ensure all their health statistics are made available at the hospital. “The mothers with excess milk will be encouraged to participate in the noble cause to save the life of other new born babies," Dr Paul PG said.

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