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Banking on good news from India

When demonetization struck, it was certainly a bolt from the blue.  Pandemonium reigned ruthlessly everywhere across different socioeconomic strata. It was common to see all the ATMs in the town with shutters down and citizens making a bee line for the banks. It is an earnest effort by the Government to curb black money. Amidst this turmoil, an ATM inside JIPMER hospital, Pondicherry has been working silently epitomizing a white revolution. Yes, the ATM stands for Amudham Thaipaal Maiyam – the only human milk bank in the union territory.

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This ATM was inaugurated on 13th July 2016 and since then it has been adding great value to the newborn care services of the hospital. So far more than 320 donations have been made by generous postnatal mothers with an average of 400ml/day. More importantly, 182 neonates mostly preterm babies have benefitted. For this vulnerable group of neonates, pasteurized donor human milk (PDHM) drawn from this ATM is just not calorie currency but a new lease of life and comprehensive protection from microbes.

World Health Organization advocates exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. If mother’s own milk is unavailable or insufficient, the next best option is to use PDHM. In India the growth of human milk banks has been very slow as compared to the growth of neonatal intensive care units. 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 breast milk banks in all level II and level III facilities. All healthy lactating mothers with healthy babies, who are voluntarily willing to give their extra breast milk for other babies can donate breastmilk without compromising the nutritional needs of their own babies. All mothers will be screened for common infections like HIV and Hepatitis B before they donate milk. Pasteurization also makes the milk germ free. Moreover bacteriological testing of the pasteurized milk will be done before administering to the baby. Hence PDHM is safe for babies. There is absolutely no risk for the donating mother also and in fact, milk donation increases her own milk production and secretion.

Using PDHM, we can save small preterm babies who are sick. We can protect them from gut sepsis and other infections. Abandoned neonates, temporary interruption of breastfeeding and babies whose mother die in the immediate postpartum period will also benefit. Infant formula use and its complications will reduce and exclusive breastfeeding rates in the community will improve. Donation of human milk and willingness to accept PDHM are purely voluntary and there is no financial commitment for the donors or recipients. The awareness regarding human milk banking should increase among the public and usage of infant formula should be brought down. More dedicated ATMs of this kind exclusively for the tiny citizens should increase in number.

“Giving is not just making a donation….

It is about making a difference.”

Dr. Adhisivam B

Additional Professor
Dept. of Neonatology, JIPMER
Pondicherry 605 006

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