Thirty-year-old new mom, Chinmayee K Udapudi, feels the need to create more awareness about human milk banks. She does whatever she can for the cause. Just a week ago, the Bengalurean donated 1.9 litres of breast milk to Amrutha Dhare, the milk bank at the government-run Vanivilas Hospital in Bengaluru.
Udapudi, an advocate, is a mother of two, and she delivered her second child a month ago. She says that after she had her first baby, she had excess milk. She wanted to donate it to the milk bank but couldn’t do so because of the pandemic. But now, after her second baby, she is delighted that she can contribute to the cause.
What is the human milk bank?
The human milk bank is a service similar to the blood bank. It collects breast milk from nursing mothers and stores it for those in need. The mothers can walk up to the milk bank, express it at the facility and donate it to those in need or they can express it at home using personal breast pumping machines (following hygiene protocols and instructions from the milk bank) and donate it to the bank.
Post delivery, while some women struggle with lactation, some are blessed with excess milk, and through breast milk donation, they can help those in need, says Dr Savitha C, medical superintendent, Vanivilas Hospital.
“Breast milk contains critical nutrients that are needed for infants. These are not found in formula milk. We started the milk bank in January 2022 and to date, we have not used formula feed in our NICU (neonatal intensive care unit),” says Dr Savitha who is in charge of Amrutha Dhare and obstetrics and gynaecology.
Need for awareness
Asia’s first human milk bank was started in 1989 in Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General Hospital, locally known as Sion Hospital, Mumbai. Though thousands of women deliver babies in Mumbai every year, not everyone comes forward to donate, as the majority of them are not aware of it, says Dr Swati Manerkar, the HOD and professor of neonatology and the person in charge of the Human Milk Bank, Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General Hospital. She stresses the need to spread more awareness about milk banks.
“Though we convince all the nursing mothers admitted at our hospital for delivery to donate, they don’t return for a second donation. There is no consistency. They might donate for the time that they are admitted in the hospital and will not follow up after that,” says Dr Manerkar, adding that community donors, or those from outside the hospital, are very few.
When excess milk is not expressed, the mother will feel heaviness in the breast which can lead to breast nodules and even infections, says Dr Savitha. “Expressing excess milk helps nursing mothers maintain good health and increase milk supply.”
Who is eligible to donate breast milk?
Persons with infections, skin diseases or transmittable diseases cannot donate. “The donors are asked to take a blood test to screen for infections and diseases that could be passed on. We screen for HIV and other infections before accepting the donors,” says Dr Savitha.
How does the human milk bank work?
New moms can walk into the human milk bank and express milk following hygiene protocols and instructions from the health care workers. “Post expression, the milk is stored in the deep freezer and later pooled with other donors’ milk. A microbiology testing is done before and after pasteurisation. It is then poured into bottles which will be kept ready in the freezer for donation,” says Dr Savitha.
She adds that ever since starting the milk bank, over 223 litres of breast milk have been collected and this has come to the aid of 1,200 babies.
“We have a busy NICU where a lot of infants are born premature or with low birth weight. These babies are born to mothers with high risk and while they recover, these babies need a good amount of breast milk which is delivered with the help of donors,” says Dr Manerkar.
Dr Manerkar adds that with the current 6,000 to 8,000 donors, they have been able to attend only to those babies who are admitted to the hospital.
“Women need not come to the milk bank to donate. They can inform us and the hospital and we give instructions on how to express and store the milk. We also send an ambulance for pick up,” says Dr Savitha.
Donating excess breast milk to human milk banks helps those mothers who are not able to produce enough milk. It also helps premature and low-weight babies who are in need. By expressing excess milk, women can prevent sudden leaks, the formation of breast nodules and infections.