The benefits of breast milk extend well beyond just basic nutrition. Breast milk protects babies from allergies, infections, and diseases, other than providing them with necessary nutrients in proper proportions. However, many mothers in India are unaware of its importance.
Despite several awareness programmes, the stigma and taboo around breast milk have obstructed the progress of spreading awareness about it, feels Dr. Ankit Srivastava, founder and director of Breast Milk Foundation (BMF). “There is immense ignorance around the subject due to the lack of proper information. And this can only be dealt with more awareness campaigns organised by professionals,” he says.
His non-profit organisation is trying to do its bit in dealing with the issue. The Breast Milk Foundation started its first public milk bank called Amaara in Delhi and Bengaluru, to provide donor milk to vulnerable infants admitted in neonatal units and to newborns whose mothers are unable to lactate.
The milk bank collects breast milk from donors, ensures milk safety, and makes it available for all premature and critically-ill babies.
By doing so, it gives premature or growth-restricted babies a chance to live a healthy life.
“Amaara became a reality when my wife and I, in conversation with Dr. Raghuram Malliah (co-Founder of BMF), came to know about the long-neglected issues faced by neo-natal babies in India,” says Dr. Ankit.
“India has the highest number of low birth weight babies born every year. We need to encourage more women to breastfeed or go for a safer alternative for their infants, which is pasteurised donor milk from breast milk banks,” he adds.
So how does the milk bank work? First, the hospital that needs breast milk gets in touch with Amaara on its helpline number (add number) with their requirement. Amaara sends an instruction manual and information about logistics to the hospital. Once the information is clear, Amaara promptly dispatches the milk.
“Though it is a hassle-free process for the most part, parents need to fill a registration form and a recipient consent form while attaching the doctor’s prescription with the request that is sent for procuring the milk. This is to avoid any misuse,” says Dr. Ankit.
As for the collection process, once Amaara gets the milk from a donor’s house, it is pasteurised and transferred from the original container to 130 ml bottles.
After pasteurisation, the bank examines milk for its nutrients content and other essential vitamins and minerals. The milk samples are then immediately sent for a culture test to check for bacterial growth. “The Pasteurized Donor Human Milk (PDHM) is carefully frozen and stored. It can be distributed after samples are cultured and show no bacteria growth. Frozen PDHM is shipped overnight to hospitals,” informs Dr. Ankit.
Despite the stigma, Amaara still manages to get milk donors. In Delhi, more than 200 premature babies were fed with the milk from the milk bank till April 2017. They say that several mothers have come forward to donate. After Delhi, Amaara has recently expanded the initiative to Bengaluru, where they have supplied milk to 4-5 hospitals so far.
“We encourage mothers by educating them and creating awareness about this novel idea. We tell them how they can help high-risk infants survive” concludes Dr. Ankit.
For more information, you can visit Amaara’s website here.