The human milk bank will collect, pasteurise, test, store and dispense milk donated by lactating mothers for the health and nutrition of infants who cannot be nursed by their mothers.
Reinforcing the importance and growing need of breast milkor human milk for newborn babies, T.N. Medical College and B.Y.L. Nair Hospital became the city's seventh such hospital to have inaugurated a human milk bank on Thursday. Four other hospitals had initiated it in the past years, including King Edward Hospital (KEM), JJ Hospital, Cama Hospital and Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General Hospital (Sion Hospital) which had Asia's first human milk bank established in the year 1989, under the leadership of Dr Armida Fernandez, and is presently run by Dr Jayashree Mondkar, a neo-natologist. The hospital collects over four litres of milk from 40 new mothers every day.
A human milk bank essentially collects breast milk donated by lactating mothers, pasteurizes it for the removal of bacteria and viruses, tests it further for authenticity and then deep freezes it for storage before dispensation to infants in need.
Dr Sushma Malik, head of department, Pediatrics and professor in charge of neonatology at Nair Hospital said, "We expect new mothers to come forward as donors. We have about 300-350 deliveries that occur in a month and also mothers who come for follow up consultations volunteer to donate breast milk. Breast milk donation is essentially voluntary. As of now, until the establishment of the milk bank, the hospital gave babies cow-milk and infant formula, but now, we hope to provide human breast milk to almost one-third of premature babies admitted to NICU each month."
In normal circumstances, in case a mother is unable to lactate, for reasons ranging from post partum depression to serious illness or even hormonal issues, babies are most commonly given 'infant formula,' a manufactured baby food in the form of powder, which is not as nutritious and immunity boosting, as human breast milk.
"Women must understand that all mothers do lactate once they deliver the baby. However, it is when they tend to get all worked up about it or go into depression with all that is happening around them, that their lactation gets affected and they resort to top feed. Basically they should believe themselves that they can breastfeed and then they will be able to," says Aloka Gambhir, a lactation consultant based in Mumbai.
However, in extreme situations wherein the mother or the child is unable to benefit from breast milk, such human milk banks come handy. "In the end, it is important to understand that human milk banks should be for the babies of women who cannot themselves breastfeed. And this conclusion that one cannot breastfeed should be arrived at only when it is medically certified. Enough encouragement and support should be given to new mothers to at least try breastfeeding before giving up on it. If more women receive good lactation support it will also lead to more human milk donations as lactating mothers can donate any extra milk instead of throwing it away, said Dr Arun Gupta, who is a senior pediatrician with more than 37 years of experience and is also the founder and central coordinator of the Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI).
Doctors also point out to the fact that many a time, premature babies, being too weak, lack the strength to drink the milk (or suck the breasts), even though the mother lactates. Dr Ramesh Bharmal, Dean, Nair Hospital said that this initiative was mainly for babies admitted to the NICU immediately after birth, and have no access to their own mother's milk as the mother is asked to remain in the ward."
Also, to avoid scenarios where the just-born baby is taken away from the new mother which can sometimes deprive the mother-child duo to enjoy their new bond, a special facility of 'Kangaroo Mother Care' has also been started at Nair Hospital on Thursday, along with the human milk bank. This facility will ensure that beds will be kept for the mother at the NICU ward itself, where the mother will be able to stay with the baby until the completion of the latter's treatment.
"The word 'Kangaroo Care' is used to highlight the bond established by a Kangaroo mother and her baby, wherein she holds her offspring close to her chest, keeping it in her pouch till it matures. We want such bond to be there between the mother and the baby, too," said Dr Jayashree Mondkar, Dean, LTM College and hospital. Six beds are being installed in the hospital's NICU ward, where the mother can easily live and spend more time with her child.