breast milk is the best milk”- This is an age old saying and has always been proved endless number of times by scientific evidences since times immemorial. Breast milk is not only the safest source of nutrition for the babies but rather is an integral part and parcel of their diet. It is the healthiest source of nutrition as it contains all the nutrients in appropriate amounts and many antibodies which help in building up the immunity of these babies and thus protecting these new comers from many vulnerable diseases. Its role not only ends in the early parts of the life but extends later as these breast fed babies have been found to have greater IQs than their non breast fed counter parts.
Human breast milk banking is an emerging concept in our country. In these banks, breast milk is collected from donor mothers and is used to feed babies who are unwell or premature, just as blood banks are used for supplying blood to those in need. Breast milk banking is not a new concept of today. In the olden times there were “wet nurses,” who used to feed milk to unrelated babies directly. The same practice and concept has been utilized in these breast milk banks, making it more feasible safer these days.
In these breast milk banks the donors are screened for disease which can be transmitted via their donated milk first. The process is very systematically carried out by the dedicated staff of the milk bank and proper assessment and screening of the donor mother is carried out before milk collection. The milk is then collected in sterile containers after expression from the breasts with the help of pumps or manually and is kept sterilized. This milk then undergoes pasteurization and is stored at low temperatures.
The donors in these cases are the mothers who cannot directly feed their babies and so their babies can be fed by expressed milk, mothers whose babies are very sick and are admitted in Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICUs) and so are not being fed and even the mothers who have lost their babies. On the other hand, the recipients are the babies of the mothers who are not mature enough to be fed directly by the breasts (so are fed by the expressed breast milk of their mothers), babies who are born with diseases (like malabsorption, short gut syndromes, formula intolerance, immune deficiencies- IgA, failure to thrive, some congenital anomalies) and the babies whose mothers have died due to any cause (serving as the sole source of nutrition till six months of age). Thus, it plays an important role in preserving a newborn life. Thus, it is a blessing for babies with immaturity, poor health and weak immunity.
In our country, the concept of milk banking is in its neonatal phase with presently just 14 milk banks against a large number of births each day. The concept yet puts up to answer these questions regarding human milk banking:
Will there be sufficient breast feeding mothers wanting to donate their milk?
Will the parents accept the donated milk for their babies from these banks?
Finally, will the neonatologists prescribe the donated milk for their babies?
Dr. Murtaza Kamal is a practicing pediatrician at Safdarjung Hospital, New delhi. Dr. Kamal is associated with a number of medical research journals including Elixir International Journal, USA, International Journal of Medical Pediatric and Oncology, Indian Journal of Case Reports & Yuva Journal of Medical Sciences.