Fortis La Femme, in association with Breast Milk Foundation (a non-profit venture promoting the safe use of human milk for babies), on Tuesday launched Delhi-NCR’s first Human Milk Bank (HMB) called Amaara.
Human milk banking is at a nascent stage in India, with around 14 milk banks currently operating across the country. The first milk bank in Asia—Sneha—was founded by Dr Armeda Fernandez in Dharavi, Mumbai in 1989.
“Most mothers who are donating milk are doing so on a voluntary basis. Any mother who has surplus milk after breastfeeding her own child donates milk. This milk is then bottled into special containers, sealed and pasteurised and undergoes bacterial surveillance before storing,” says Dr Raghuram Mallaiah, director, Neonatology, Fortis La Femme.
Human milk banks (HMB) are primarily focused to deliver donor milk to vulnerable newborns, who are admitted to a hospital’s neonatal unit.
According to experts, the growth of human milk banks has not kept pace with the growth of neonatal intensive care units in India.
“One of the major reasons for loss of interest in human milk banking was the promotion of formula milk by the industry. Keeping in mind the complications associated with formula feeding to the sick, tiny preterm neonates and mothers’ inability to breastfeed in the initial period, there is a need to establish human milk banks in all level II and level III facilities,” experts have written in the Human Milk Banking Guidelines published for the “infant and young child feeding chapter”, Indian Academy of Pediatrics.
Arun Gupta, pediatrician, and Regional Coordinator of International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) welcomes the setting up of milk banks in general, but in the absence of coordinated effort by the government to promote breastfeeding the HMBs will not be as successful as they could be, he feels.
He suggests Brazil as a model for India to emulate. Brazil has a countrywide network of over 200 human milk banks which operate within the constraints of a developing economy.
Massive public awareness campaigns drove the Brazilian Human Milk Banking project started by Joao Arigio Guerrade Almeida, a chemist, in the 1980s. Since 1985, the country has succeeded in reducing infant mortality rate from 63.2 per 1,000 births to 19.6 in 2013, according to reports.
Gupta reiterates that it is through counselling that such a network can flourish in India. “The health system must develop a larger strategy to promote breastfeeding,” he says.
Data published by the medical journal Lancet reveals that if India scaled up breastfeeding interventions, annually it could reduce 13% of all under-5 deaths (156,000 child deaths), 39,00,000 episodes of diarrhoea, 34,36,560 episodes of pneumonia, and 4,915 deaths due to breast cancer.
Milk banks that have been set up in other parts of India are mostly concentrated in Rajasthan and Pune. Delhi/NCR’s first milk bank is a public milk bank. “We are happy to supply milk to other hospitals which may need it, as long as we have enough supplies,” says Dr Mallaiah.
The bottles are priced at Rs 200 per bottle, but Mallaiah says, “We are trying to get people to pledge money, if they do so we may be able to supply it free of cost to the needy”.