Nidhi Parmar Hiranandani gave birth to a beautiful baby boy on 21 February 2020. After nine years of marriage, Nidhi and her husband, Tushar, welcomed Veer into their home. While she enjoyed the newfound joys of motherhood, she found herself in a particularly perplexing situation. “After nursing my child, I realised that I still had a lot of milk leftover. I had read on the internet that breast milk does have a shelf life of three to four months if properly stored in a refrigerator,” begins Nidhi, who went on to make a sizable donation of breast milk during the lockdown period.
A month-and-a-half down the line, she found her freezer starting to fill up with breast milk as she still had not found a good enough use for it. “The internet suggested making face packs out of it. Some of my friends said they bathe their babies with it or even use it to scrub their feet. Since I thought this was a cruel waste of milk, and I did not want to give it to salons (laughs), I began researching breast milk donation,” says the 41-year-old, film producer, who was last associated with Saand Ki Aankh (2019).
It was a serendipitous encounter that led Nidhi, who was on the brink of getting rid of her excess milk, to Surya Hospital, Khar, Mumbai. The hospital has had an operational breast milk bank since 2019. However, due to the lockdown, which began at the end of March in the city, the hospital didn’t receive its usual amount of milk donations.
“I contacted my gynaecologist at Women’s Hospital, Bandra, who suggested I donate the milk to Surya Hospital. Up until that point, I had about 20 packets of 150 ml each in my fridge, but the thought of getting out to donate during the lockdown was concerning, for I now had a baby at home. But the hospital was very forthcoming and ensured a zero-contact pick-up from my doorstep,” says Nidhi.
“We generally encourage mothers, who have not delivered their babies with us, to drop off their milk donations at the hospital. But even though we were also concerned for our staff when the pandemic hit we offered to pick up these donations, ensuring zero-contact,” says Dr Hari Balasubramanian, consultant Neonatologist at Surya Hospital, who is also in charge of the breast milk bank.
A bank that saves tiny lives
For the hospital, necessity was the mother of all inventions. “Our NICU (Neonatal intensive care unit) has 65 active beds, and 70 per cent of the babies born here are below 1.5 kg, while 30-40 per cent are less than one kg. At this stage, babies only feed on breast milk, which needs to continue for another 70-80 days. However, when the baby is born before nine months, often the mother faces problems with lactation. NICU babies are separated from their mothers which may also hinder the lactation process. Also, babies of sickly mothers or those on medication can’t breastfeed,” says Dr Hari. For such cases, donor’s milk comes handy.
“Instead of feeding the babies preterm formula, which has a risk of mortality, gut problems and surgery complications, a donor’s milk has proven to be of great help. The incidences of complications due to feed have reduced with the administration of donor’s milk, and also the long term benefits, when the child is two or three years old, has shown improvement,” he adds.
The hospital has two deep freezers, with temperature monitoring controls, and each with a capacity to store 200 litres of milk, which is frozen at -20℃. Their stock is refilled with 50 per cent coming from donors and the other half from mothers who deliver at their facility.
However, during the lockdown, the hospital’s milk supply had dwindled to 10 litres.
Every drop counts
It is because of donors like Nidhi that the hospital’s milk bank was revived. “After my first donation, I would express milk at home, and every 15-20 days I would donate it to the hospital,” says Nidhi, who contributed a total of 40 litres since May 2020.
She adds, “When I started weaning my baby off breast milk, I informed Dr Hari about the same, but he suggested I come to see the babies I am helping. When I saw those tiny babies, weighing just 650 grams, it became a bigger driving factor for me. I will try to donate breast milk at least till February 2021.”
The hospital welcomes any contribution “both large and small”. Dr Hari adds, “The milk donated is life for some babies. The mortality rate of premature babies has come down by 8-9% by administering donor’s milk.”
If you want to be a donor
Before becoming a donor, mothers have to provide results of tests such as HIV, Hepatitis B antigens tests and a few others that they have already taken during pregnancy. “Before the milk is administered to the babies, it is tested for bacteria and pasteurised, which is a universal mandate. Though this may slightly decrease the nutritional value of the milk, its benefits are far more important,” says Dr Hari.
“Unlike some hospitals that charge Rs 1500-2000 for 100 ml of breast milk, Surya Hospital administers it free of charge,” Nidhi says.
She suggests buying BPA bags, with a capacity of 150-200 ml each, online or at a pharmacy. The bags are sterilised and can be sealed and stored in the deep freeze for up to three months. Surya Hospital also provides donors with sterile bags for free along with breast pumps on lease and lactation counselling.
“These babies need just 8-15 ml of breast milk. Even if it means just 10 minutes extra pumping daily, you could save a life,” Nidhi concludes.
(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)