Why India is banking on nursing mothers to save preemies

Breastfeeding, Breast milk, Breast milk bank, ICH, Mother, Newborn, Preemie, NICU
Nursing mothers are donating at breast milk banks. Image: Prathap Ravishankar

Namitha, a mother in her 20s, has been donating her milk to the human milk bank at the Kanchi Kamakoti Childs Trust Hospital, Chennai, ever since the birth of her daughter. Her daughter, a preemie, is in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) of the hospital. Namitha pumps milk to feed her daughter, and the excess milk expressed by her is stored at the milk bank. “I want to continue donating to the bank, even after my discharge from the hospital. There are many preterm babies like mine that can benefit from my milk. As a mother, I feel it is my responsibility to help them,” she says.

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Not far away is the Institute of Child Health and Hospital for Children (ICH), a state government facility, which was the first to have a human milk bank in Tamil Nadu in 2014. Mothers like Nisha Rajagopalan have been helping infants by donating their milk periodically. Nisha, who has been delivering her milk to the hospital for the past three months, says, “I heard about human milk banks from a friend in the United States. When I had my second child a few months ago, I began using a breast pump to express milk quite early. I decided to donate the surplus milk after consulting my paediatrician and chose the ICH because it has newborns who are abandoned and infants who do not have access to mother’s milk.” Nisha has donated as much 16 litres to the bank in the past few months.

Banking on mothers

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