Breast Milk Banks – Storing the liquid gold
Breast milk is said to be a baby’s first vaccine. It not only protects against infectious diseases but also helps in epithelial recovery and reduces the risk of death from hypothermia; especially in case of premature children who have a higher risk of infant mortality.
Human milk is also known to decrease frequency of diarrhoea, respiratory infections and also reduces the incidence of chronic illnesses like obesity, hypertension, diabetes, allergic diseases in adulthood. Lactating mothers who breastfeed also benefit as it is known to reduce risk of breast cancer.
However in certain instances breastfeeding is not feasible. Herein comes the role of Breast Milk Banks.
What is a Human Milk Bank?
These are milk storage centers usually attached to a nursery or a hospital, that collects, screens and stores the human milk from healthy lactating mothers to provide them to babies who are not biologically related to these donors. Instead of feeding directly, the breast milk is collected by milk banks and kept sterilized. The milk undergoes pasteurization and is stored at low temperatures.
The entire procedure is carried out in a systematic manner and involves proper assessment and screening of the mother before the milk is collected. By doing so, it is ensured
that the volunteer’s health is not put at stake.
Who can benefit from Breast milk bank
- Babies who lose their mothers as soon as they are born.
- Babies who are premature [born before 32 weeks of gestation] or are born with
diseases like short-gut syndrome, malabsorption or immune deficiencies
- Mothers of vulnerable, hospitalized babies who are unable to breastfeed them.
- Mothers due to their own weak health or other reasons are not able to generate
sufficient milk for their babies as in case of twins or triplets.
- Orphans/abandoned children.
Who can donate milk?
- Any healthy lactating mother, who is not taking any specific prohibited drugs, with no evidence of Hepatitis, TB and tests negative for VDRL and HIV.
- Mothers who have unfortunately lost their babies after birth can be active volunteers in breast milk donation as it is known to have not only physical but also psychological healing effects.
India ranks amongst the countries with highest infant mortality rates and human breast milk can help reduce that to a great extent. Even though the first human milk bank in India was set up over 27 years ago, enough has not been done to meet the soaring needs.
Biggest challenge is the social stigma and taboo associated with donating breast milk. Donated breast milk is considered as ‘liquid gold’ by health experts and acts as a boon for babies with poor health and a weak immune system.
All nursing mothers should try and contribute their bit in this noble endeavor. A little extra effort can help save a little ones life.