BENGALURU: Ahead of the World Breastfeeding Week from August 1-8, it is pertinent to note that Karnataka’s infant mortality rate is 31 out of every 1,000 live births and 23 per cent of babies are premature.
Breast milk is essential for developing the immunity of a newborn, brain development and faster growth, something that formula milk powders cannot guarantee.
Breast milk banks can contribute to providing that elixir of life, but the state has none.
Dr Karthik Nagesh, Chairman of Neonatology and Manipal Advanced Children’s Centre, said that even if a new mother has difficulty lactating and is able to produce very little milk, she is advised to breastfeed over using formula milk it can work wonders in improving the health of a premature baby.
“Necrotising enterocolitis (a disease of the intestine) can be prevented in a preemie if the baby gets breast milk. There are reduced incidents of death if the baby is given donor milk at least. Sadly, the state has no breast milk banks. It costs `1 crore to `2 crore to set up a breast milk bank and it is not just seetting it up but maintaining and sustaining it is that’s costly,” he says.
While Rajasthan had an NGO running a breast milk bank, recently the state opened its own bank with the support of a Norwegian Foundation. Dr Pramod Jog, president of the Indian Academy of Paediatrics, said that though the WHO recommendation mandates exclusive breastfeeding for six months and complementary feeding for two years, the percentage of mothers doing this has remained stagnant for the past two decades.
“There are many barriers to this like lack of accurate information, lack of support in the household, no access to skilled counselling and pressure to return to work for the fear of losing daily wages that prevent a mother from feeding her child. Though the rate of institutional birth is 84.3 per cent, rate of breastfeeding mothers is just 50 per cent,” he says.
Dr Raghunath Mallaiah, director of neonatology, Fortis La Femme Hospital that opened the first public breast milk bank in Delhi in April this year, says they have 25 donors so far and have already collected 70 litres of breast milk. Their donors are spread all over the national capital region. “Once the mothers are screened for viral markers, and the milk is analysed, each bottle is labelled with its nutritional content like calorie, fat and protein. Some mothers feel engorged in the breasts and express more milk. If they are lactating more than the needs of the infant or experience leaking they can volunteer to donate. We have saved 26 weeks babies with this milk,” he said.
While neighbouring Tamil Nadu has a government-sponsored milk bank, Karnataka is yet to get one, private or state-owned.