Human milk banks have been a huge relief for young mothers who are unable to feed their premature babies. Many infants suffer from diarrhoea or other infectious diseases due to the consumption of formula milk and other substitutes like cow’s milk after birth.
It is essential for every infant to be breastfed within the first hour of birth as he/she receives the necessary nutrition required for a healthy immune system that can fight infections.
Premature and new-born babies have a higher chance of surviving severe diseases if they are breastfed exclusively for the first six months.
To create better access to this facility, many cities and towns, including Bengaluru, are making efforts to establish a human milk bank, thereby providing breast milk to infants who need it the most.
India has the highest number of below-five child mortality rates in the world due to premature and low birth weight. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), every infant must be breastfed, and if the option isn’t available, the preferred alternative option should be expressed milk from a donor. WHO also reports that approximately 13 percent of the babies born in India are premature and 28 percent of them are born with low birth weight, causing early infant death.
Human milk is rich in immune and non-immune components, which resist infection and also accelerate intestinal maturation in a child.
The human milk bank was first introduced with an intention to tackle the increase in neonatal death in India. These banks are especially useful for hospitals with a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), which often see high demand owing to nursing of premature or sick infants. The donor milk is considered more helpful for those high-risk newborns and babies whose mothers have lactation failure and are unable to digest formula milk.
With the rising increase in infant mortality rate, currently, 11 cities have taken active steps in opening human milk banks in their states. To activate such initiatives, the Indian Government is all set to build a human milk bank network in the country, ensuring quality and safety of milk for young infants.
With the increase in chances of milk being contaminated with bacteria or viruses, there are few policies and regulation drafted by the Indian Academy of Paediatrics that are to be adhered to before donating milk to the human milk bank. A donor must be tested for drug abuse and diseases like HIV, HTLV, Syphilis, and Hepatitis B and C. The donor must inform if there is any blood transfusion made for transplant or surgeries in the past. If the donor doesn’t meet any of these guidelines, then she is not fit to donate her milk to the bank.
Unfortunately, there have been instances of human milk banks selling adulterated milk, which can cause diseases that affect the child. To tackle such unethical activity, it is critical that all facilities follow the government regulations to ensure safe milk for the babies. The milk that is donated to the bank is not just stored but undergoes a comprehensive process. The collected milk is pasteurised and further kept in a cold storage (for it to last for six months) before given to a child.
Therefore, it is essential to encourage the culture of donating milk among young mothers. Women must take the first step towards helping children who are at risk of death due to lack of milk. It is essential that the medical fraternity and government step forward and scale up more awareness programmes on the promotion of breastfeeding and provision of counselling services to encourage breastfeeding in India.
Dr Nirmala Chandrashekhar is a Consultant, Obstetrics, Gynaecology, and Gynaec Oncology, at BGS Gleneagles Global Hospitals, Bengaluru.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)