Breast milk banks: Need of the hour?
The pandemic has been hard on almost everyone, but for lactating mothers and their infants, the period has been particularly challenging. Scores of new mothers contracted Covid-19; some even succumbed to it, as a result of which pleas for breast milk for newborns came up. With this in mind, a number of lactating mothers started donating breast milk using pumps, saving lives.
For the uninitiated, breast pumps are used to collect breast milk. Once collected, the milk can be immediately fed to a baby or stored in bags or containers to be used at a later stage. “Breast milk is best for the baby, so using pumps is better than giving formula feed,” opines Dr Juhi Dang, lead lactation consultant at Delhi’s Rainbow Hospital.
When compared to feeding babies preterm formula, which has a risk of mortality, gut problems, surgery complications, donor’s milk has proven to be of great help. “Pumping is beneficial when there is a low breast milk supply, and it is healthy as well. It helps avoid breast engorgement, keeping it soft, and also helps breasts to be empty, thereby decreasing chances of breast pain, abscess,” says Dr Shivani Sabharwal, gynaecologist and senior consultant, Apollo Spectra, Karol Bagh.
Rich in immunoglobulins, breast milk helps enhance a baby’s immunity and is easy to digest. “Women who lactate successfully have a reduced incidence of breast cancer. Lactation, by increasing metabolic rate, helps a woman in optimising weight after delivery and of course, helps a mother bond with her baby,” says Dr Ranjana Dhanu, consultant, Gynaecology and Obstetrics, at P D Hinduja Hospital & Medical Research Centre, Khar, Mumbai.
The guidelines for storing breast milk for healthy, full-term babies depend on the type of breast milk, storage location and temperature. “It’s imperative to store milk at the right temperature. For NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) babies, milk can be stored in the freezer for 48 to 72 hours and should be thawed 12-24 hours before giving. The milk should be stored in the freezer between 18 and 20 degree Celcius for three to 12 months,” says Dr Archana Wadkar, lactation counselor and consultant lactation expert at Motherhood Hospital, Pune.
Though Dr Aruna Kalra, Senior Gynaecologist and Obstetrician at CK Birla Hospital, Gurugram asks to exercise caution, “Breast pumps should be replaced within 3 to 6 months, depending on use. If there’s any tearing, rips, warping or discoloration, then it is time to replace your breast pump.”
Currently , there are very few milk banks and owing to the pandemic , very few healthy donors too , many of whom have a surplus of milk and can easily donate milk. “This milk is pasteurised and stored in extremely hygienic conditions. I feel more women must come forward to donate milk for these babies for whom it is lifesaving nectar,” says Dr Shelly Singh, Gynaecologist, Rosewalk Hospital, Delhi.
“Breast milk banks in developing countries have a pivotal role to play specially during these challenging and testing times as they help to facilitate the use of breast milk and ensure provision of mother’s milk as a gap support for new born and vulnerable babies in situations where mother’s own milk is not available,” says Rajesh Vohra CEO, Artsana India (Chicco), In assistance with Chicco Research Centre.
He adds, “I would like to urge the policy makers, health care system and industry experts must come together to ensure access to milk for all babies by supporting and scaling up of milk banks in India.”
Benefits of a breast pump
1. Pumping can help build a freezer stash of milk
2. Pumped milk from a donor is a better option than formula
3. Ensures an emergency supply
4. Pumping allows the caregivers to have a break while they are coping with months, or even years, of sleep deprivation
List of milk banks
Amara Milk Bank (In collaboration with Fortis la Femme), Greater Kailash, New Delhi - 919999134520
KEM Hospital, Parel, Mumbai - 022 2410 7000
Lokamanya Tilak Hospital (Sion Hospital), Sion, Mumbai - 022- 2407 6381
Cama Hospital, Fort, Mumbai