A human milk bank will be set up in the Uttar Pradesh capital to help newborns deprived of mother’s milk, a major reason for the state’s high neonatal mortality rate.
The initiative, a first in the state, will cater to babies in need of mother’s milk immediately after birth in several districts. The main unit in Lucknow will act as the feeder in the supply chain.
“Statistics say 13% of under-five deaths could be prevented by breastfeeding. Hence, the bank will help reduce death of such children in dire need of mother’s milk. There are several reasons for it, including inability by the mother to produce milk,” said Dr Vinod Jain, senior faculty at KGMU and a public health expert.
Such banks, which facilitate reliable and healthy milk, are already operating in Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Gujarat.
The bank selects breast milk donors, collects the donated milk, processes, screens and distributes it to infants in need. Lactating mothers are chosen following strict norms to be donors. They should be healthy and not suffering from any hepatitis type. These are ensured through tests.
“There are woman who overproduce milk or deliver stillborn babies. Such mothers can be donors. Human milk contains antibodies and saves children from fatal infections,” said Prof Rakesh Kapoor, the director of PGI, from where two doctors are working on the project.
The bank has been initiated by PATH, an international health sector non-profit. It is extending technical support under an India-specific platform, the Mother Baby Friendly Initiative Plus.
“In terms of numbers, Uttar Pradesh has a much higher neonatal mortality rate of 49 than the national rate of 29. Higher access to human milk will benefit more than 200,000 preterm and almost 450,000 full-term infants,” said Ruchika Sachdeva, the nutrition team leader of PATH.
It is estimated that 30 to 50% of preterms in newborn care units and about 20% full-term babies with low birth weight need donor human milk to meet their short or long-term lack of mothers’ own milk.
This could be due to their mothers’ illness, recovery or absence — death or abandonment.
This lack of protection and nutrition from human milk is critical for vulnerable neonates who face challenges from premature birth, low birth weight and illness.
The project will take some time before it starts catering to children.