Udaipur: After giving birth to her second child, a boy, 27-year-old Preeti Gameti wasn’t sure whether she was happy or worried. An anaemic, Gameti had lost a lot of blood during labour and was too weak to breastfeed the newborn. As the infant’s health deteriorated due to unavailability of his mother’s milk, Gameti’s hopes of keeping her son alive faded. Realising that the baby could soon breath his last, a local doctor suggested that the newborn be fed mother’s milk, but not necessarily his own.
A ray of hope
It was here that Divya Mothers Milk Bank (DMMB), Udaipur, one of the handful functional units in north India, came to Gameti’s help by providing the newborn with mother’s milk in time. Set up in April 2013, DMMB has saved 644 infants whose biological mothers were unable to breastfeed their newborns for a variety of reasons, including being HIV infected or malnourished. Besides, infants abandoned for being a girl child are also fed at the milk bank.
“Gameti’s baby was 15 days old and weighed just 900 grams when he was brought here. He was critical, but in 10 days his weight increased to 1.5 kg,” said S L Dharmawat, chief coordinator at DMMB. The milk bank is managed by NGO Maa Bhagwati Vikas Sansthan, which also runs a cradle scheme that has managed to save lives of over 100 female infants.
“75 per cent of infants in Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) die due to pneumonia and diabetes. 22 per cent of such deaths can be prevented by feeding mother’s milk,” Maa Bhagwati Vikas Sansthan founder Devendra Agarwal said. “The recovery of babies born prematurely is 40 per cent faster if they are provided with mother’s milk, and this is what we do here.”
Agarwal, who also teaches yoga, claims the number of mothers visiting DMMB — who can’t produce milk or who have it in excess — has been increasing steadily.
“Till November 30, about 1,405 women donated 8,389 units of milk. One unit is 30 ml,” he said.
Commenting on their endeavour, DMMB chief operations officer R K Agarwal said that mother’s milk is like elixir for newborns, and milk banks like theirs are trying to do their bit. “But, we need more of them. The whole of Rajasthan has one — us,” he added.
More than feeding
Devendra Agarwal claims the milk bank has also helped over 2,000 women produce milk, who could not do so earlier because of complications in their breasts.
“We made this possible through suction,” he said. “I’ve heard of functional milk banks in Pune, Mumbai, Surat and some other cities. But what I want is that every city in India must have a milk bank. Every year, 2.76 crore births are reported in India. Imagine if half of their mothers donate milk; infant mortality can be drastically reduced.”
He added that a country like Brazil has over 200 human-milk banks — perhaps the highest in the world, as compared to just 10 across the whole of India.
“It is because of milk banks that Brazil has reduced child deaths by 70 per cent. India should also follow this model,” he stated.
Number of human-milk banks in Brazil, according to Maa Bhagwati Vikas Sansthan founder Devendra Agarwal
Number of human-milk banks in India
>> Before pooling, a donor’s milk is tested for various diseases like HIV, Hepatitis B and others
>> Milk is sterilised in a hot-air oven for 30 minutes and pasteurised at 65 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes
>> It is then stored at temperatures below -20 degrees Celsius, and does not perish for six months if kept frozen
As per the 2011 Census, the infant mortality rate in Rajasthan stands at 52 per 1,000 live births against the national figure of 44. The overall picture, too, is grim. According to a report prepared by the NGO Save the Children and Joy Lawn, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, a staggering 1.013 million babies in India died on the first day of birth in 2012.