India’s Human Milk Bank for Premature Babies
Despite the immense health benefits that it offers to both the mother and child, breast milk has always been considered a subject of taboo in the Indian society. Unaware of its importance and pressured by family and friends, many exhausted new mothers turn to alternate sources of supplements to nourish their ever-hungry newborns. However, now, they can get pasteurized human milk for their tiny tots, thanks to Breast Milk Foundation (BMF), a non-profit organization that strives to improve the health of preemies and little infants by providing them with donated human milk.
Set up by Dr Ankit Srivastava in New Delhi in 2015, BMF went on to collaborate with Fortis La Femme to set up ‘Amaara’ – a human milk bank in Delhi-NCR. The joint effort won them many laurels and they soon extended a helping hand to Bengaluru too to set up the city’s first ever human milk bank. Looking back, Dr Srivastava says that he always wanted to contribute towards the field of healthcare. “It has been a neglected issue all over the world for too long and in a nation like India, one cannot ignore the lack of a proper healthcare system and the resulting affliction. It was my father’s vision to open a hospital for the poor providing them with adequate healthcare facilities. Growing up with him, I too felt strongly about it and thus I initiated with the GNS Foundation in his memory to work towards free and quality healthcare and education.”
Over the years, Dr. Ankit entered the field of dental care by setting up ‘Dantah’ as a unit of ANR Healthcare; BMF and now Amaara’. “Amaara became a reality when my wife Neha and I in conversation with Dr Raghuram Malliah stumbled upon the long neglected issue of neo-natal infants and the appalling lack of proper nutrition available for them leading to the unfortunate and rising mortality rate nationwide. Several such exchanges led us to the inception where Breast Milk Foundation was set up in collaboration with Fortis La Femme, and eventually, its first peerless project Amaara was born,” he says.
For mothers who wish to donate milk, the process begins by contacting Amaara, where a set of professionals will guide them through the procedure. Once collected, the milk is safely transferred to glass flasks; followed by mixing and pooling to ensure even distribution of human milk components. After this, it is poured into bottles of 130ml or 250ml and analysed for the nutrient content and other essential vitamins and minerals. The samples are immediately taken after the pasteurization process and sent for culture test to check for any bacterial growth, while any contaminated human milk is rejected.
The Pasteurized Donor Human milk (PDHM) is then labelled and stored in the freezer and shipped frozen overnight to hospitals. “All lactating mothers who have excess milk after feeding their own baby can contribute by donating their precious milk for the cause while others can create awareness about the initiative,” explains Dr Ankit.
After a successful run in Delhi and Bengaluru, the team hopes to extend “the love and care of Amaara to other cities very soon”. “The biggest challenge we faced when we started out was the lack of awareness on breast milk donation. Therefore, getting mothers to donate for the cause was a little challenging and I am thankful to Dr Raghuram and his team who convince his patients and educate them to donate if they have surplus milk supply instead of throwing it away.”
More awareness programmes on the subject are also the need of the hour, he feels.
“The stigma and taboo surrounding the concept of breast milk donation has mostly obstructed the awareness programmes. This can only be solved with more awareness campaigns and activities conducted by the health professionals.”
Author : Deepa Natarajan
A former reporter with a newspaper, Deepa Natarajan is now a freelance writer, journalist and editor apart from being a mommy to a little princess. She also has a special affinity for music, travelling, gardening and yoga