For the past few months, Sharanya Govindarajalu has been helping save lives in a way only a new mother can – by donating her breast milk. Five days a week, the 32-year-old mother of a seven-month-old sends 100ml to 150ml of her breast milk to a neonatal hospital so it can be used to feed one of the several pre-term babies in desperate need of nourishment.
“My husband is a blood donor, I am a breast milk donor,” says Sharanya. “At the end of the day we are both helping another human being. Some of the preterm babies are barely the size of my palm. To know that I can help them in some way is a good feeling,” says Sharanya who sometimes visits the recipient babies and their mothers.
There are currently nine government breast milk banks in the state – one of the earliest among them being at the Institute of Child Health, Egmore — with a proposal on to set up four more this year, says neonatologist Dr K Kumudha, with each centre collecting between one and two litres of donor milk a day. There are some too in the private sector, like for instance in Vijaya Hospital, Chennai, and Christian Medical College and Hospital, Vellore. But, says Dr Kumudha, though awareness has grown, more centres are the need of the hour, as the government hospitals still supply to several private medical centres free of cost.
“The survival rate of preterm babies is much higher now and having a regular supply of donor breast milk can go a long way in keeping them healthy. It also reduces the rate of infections,” says Dr Kumudha, also the expert adviser for child health with the National Health Mission-TN Chapter.
She adds that a number of mothers of preterm babies are also anxious about their newborn’s health, which can affect their own production of breast milk. “But knowing their babies are receiving a regular supply of breast milk is a confidence booster, which can result in more production of their own milk,” she adds.
According to her, most of the breast milk donation comes from other new mothers at the same hospital, outside volunteers, as well as lactating members of the staff. “At least now there is not much stigma about breast milk donation, both from the donor’s side and the recipient’s. Now, we need more centres,” says Dr Kumudha.View External Link