Jipmer is making the case for establishing more human breast milk banks as a life-saving facility for vulnerable neonates in the city and the region.

Drawing on the experience of Jipmer’s Amudham Thaipaal Maiyam (ATM), the only human milk bank in the Union Territory completing two years of adding significant value to newborn care services, the institution points out that since its launch on July 13, 2016, the ATM cumulatively collected over 4,000 donations — with an average collection of 1,000 ml to 1.5 litres a day — by generous postnatal mothers.

More importantly, several neonates mostly preterm babies have also benefited. For this vulnerable group of neonates, pasteurised donor human milk (PDHM) drawn from this ATM is just not calorie currency but a new lease of life and comprehensive protection from microbes, neonatologists say.

WHO norms

While the World Health Organisation advocates exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, in cases where the mother’s own milk is unavailable or insufficient, the next best option is to use PDHM.

In India, the growth of human milk banks has been very slow as against the growth of neonatal intensive care units. Keeping in mind the complications associated with formula feeding to the sick, tiny pre-term neonates and mothers’ inability to breastfeed in the initial period, there is a need to establish human breast milk banks at all level II and level III facilities, a Jipmer press note stated. All healthy lactating mothers with healthy babies, who are voluntarily willing to give their extra breast milk for other babies can donate breast milk without compromising the nutritional needs of their own babies. There are guidelines evolved by the Indian Academy of Paediatrics to be followed in human milk banking. “For instance, we prioritise provision of milk to pre-term babies, sick newborns, or infants of mothers who are sick and unable to provide breastfeeding,” said Dr. B. Adhisivam, additional professor, Department of Neonatology, Jipmer.

As a routine, all mothers are screened for common infections like HIV and Hepatitis B before they donate milk. In addition to pasteurisation which makes the milk germ free, bacteriological testing of the pasteurised milk is carried out before being administered to the baby. “There is absolutely no risk for the donating mother also and in fact, milk donation increases her own milk production and secretion,” the institution stated.

The PDHM has helped save the lives of innumerable preterm babies who are sick by protecting them from gut sepsis and other infections. Abandoned neonatesand babies whose mother die in the immediate post-partum period are also among the beneficiaries of the ATM.

As donation of human milk and acceptance of PDHM are purely voluntary and there is no financial commitment for the donors or recipients, there is a need to raise public awareness regarding human milk banking and to bring down the usage of infant formula. “The awareness about donated human milk also needs to target mothers who worry that they are not producing enough breast milk and opt for formula thinking of it as the only recourse,” a neonatologist said.

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