In an initiative for vital neonatal care, the first human milk bank in the northeast region was set up in Guwahati on Wednesday to store pasteurized breast milk and to feed it to newborn babies or malnourished children free of cost.
The human milk bank was set up at the private Satribari Christian Hospital with support from the Rotary Club.
Hospital pediatrician Devajit Kumar Sharma said that it is well known that a mother's breast milk is best for the baby. Occasionally, due to many reasons, newborn babies cannot get breast milk in the required quantity.
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"It is not only species-specific, it is also baby-specific. But many a time, getting enough human milk for babies is difficult for various reasons including the mother's sickness or inability to produce sufficient milk due to psychological stress. The pressure further mounts on a mother if the baby is admitted in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit)," Sharma told IANS.
"The need for sufficient breast milk to provide adequate nutritional support to the babies or the premature babies or the children especially those with low birth weight is palpable in the northeastern region," he pointed out.
Sharma, who is a former President of the Indian Academy of Pediatrics, Guwahati unit, said while many NICUs ask neo mothers to pump their breast milk twice or three times a day and give it to the NICUs, proper pasteurization and banking of breast milk is yet to be developed even in the region's main city Guwahati.
We have only 14 human milk banks in India and this is the first one in northeast India. IANS
"Hence the next best option for such a baby is pasteurized donor milk stored in a milk bank. The human milk bank would collect milk from the donor mother who has enough milk and is willing to donate, pasteurize it and then store it in a deep freezer," he added.
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He said that the human milk bank has been set up with help from the Rotary Club and the club's Governor Dr. Debashish Das helped to realize their long-pending dream.
The pediatrician said that tremendous progress has taken place in newborn care in the last two decades. "Our neonatal (first 28 days of life) mortality rate decreased from around 70 to current 26 per thousand babies in the last two decades. But we must reduce it to below 10 per thousand babies if we want to be at par with the developed countries, where it is not more than 2 to 3. Similarly, our under-five mortality is also still hovering around 60, which is one of the worst in the world," he said.
"The main cause of concern is still pneumonia and diarrhea. If we want to achieve our goal in both neonatal mortality, we must start exclusive breastfeeding for six months and we must start it within one hour of birth."
"In India, we have an excessive burden of low birth weight and premature babies due to many causes but mainly due to the poor health of the mother. In many cases, to get enough breast milk for such tiny babies in the first few days after birth is not possible, as mothers may be sick, maybe in ICU, have some infectious disease, or can't produce enough milk as she is under psychological stress as her baby is in the newborn intensive care unit."
Sharma said that unfortunately in India, though we have NICUs mushrooming everywhere, we don't have enough milk banks to supplement them. "We have only 14 human milk banks in India and this is the first one in northeast India," he added. (IANS)