It has not been an easy day for Colaba resident Seema Kale. After attending to her newborn and meeting a stream of well-wishers, the 25-year-old has just got down to getting some rest when in walks the hospital lactation nurse.
“Would you like to donate milk now?” asks the nurse.
Kale is tired, but welcomes the suggestion. She is rather relieved to get the “pressure off her chest”.
The breast milk is collected in less than 10 minutes using a simple device, pasteurised at 65 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes, and kept frozen at -20 degree Celsius in the hospital milk bank, a crucial facility that doctors say saves the lives of thousands of babies in need of external feed for various reasons.
“I donate milk as often as possible, sometimes thrice a day,” said Kale, a housewife who recently had her second child. The milk is drawn through a pump, and the process takes 10 minutes.
Thousands of other such “foster mothers” donate milk, which works as replacement feed for premature or sick babies at the four government hospitals where doctors successfully run human milk banks.
Breast milk from the bank also comes in handy when a baby’s mother is unwell and cannot breast-feed.
At least 2,000 infants benefit at Sion Hospital alone from the 700 litres collected in a year by its milk bank from more than 2,000 donors. Some 800 babies each at JJ, Cama and King Edward Memorial need the up to 350 litres the individual banks collect every year: Between 50 ml and 100 ml of breast milk is collected in each sitting.
The World Health Organisation says breast-feeding an infant is the most effective way of reducing child mortality, especially among the poor.
“Mother’s milk a perfectly balanced diet,” said Dr Ruchi Nanavati, head of the neo-natalogy unit at King Edwards’ Hospital. “That’s not all, it builds immunity in the child, as it is packed with antibodies that help fight diseases,”