Mumbai: Donating the milk of human kindness

Updated: Jan 10, 2017, 09:48 IST | Rupsa Chakraborty

Online platform links city mothers unable to lactate to those seeking to donate their breast milk for infants

The donor mothers can either go to the recipient infant’s home or send the milk in bottles. Representation pic
The donor mothers can either go to the recipient infant’s home or send the milk in bottles. Representation pic

At a time when everything is going digital, human breast milk is now available online. Mothers, who are unable to lactate or guardians of newborns, are now approaching an online parenting platform to seek out milk donors in their vicinity.

BabyChakra, an online parenting application started a milk bank platform named ‘MomLine’ in August last year. Through it, lactating mothers can reach children who are in need of breast milk. So far, more than 25 requests have been made from parents in Mumbai. The company receives five to six such requests from parents every month.

How does it work?
If a mother or guardian of a newborn needs milk, they have to register with the application and put in a request for a donor. Following this, the application sends a notification to all the registered people about the request.

“As we send the notification, keen new mothers who are lactating inform us if they want to donate their milk. Then, we connect the donor and receiver by sharing their numbers. Subsequently, they get in touch each other and the lactating mother donates her milk to another mother,” said Neha Agarwal, community head at BabyChakra.

The donors are selected considering their proximity from the recipients. “If the request is from Parel, new mothers from the surrounding areas go to feed the child. It is very troublesome for the mother of a newborn to travel long distance to feed another child. So, the donors and recipients are from the same physical proximity. This also helps in saving the time of travel in case the need is urgent,” said Agarwal.

Hear it from a donor
Ritu Mittal Mukherjee is a 31-year-old mother who signed up on the platform to be a breast milk donor. “Being a mother myself, I understood the pain another mother might be going through for her inability to feed her child. I couldn’t stop myself when I got a notification on the online community,” said the businesswoman from Powai, who donated her milk to a newborn who had undergone surgery.

“The mother was getting hiccups while feeding her baby and needed more milk for the child to recover. So, I provided her the milk on a daily basis. That time, my baby was only three months old and I was staying in Chembur with my mother,” she said.

She fed the child for a week until his condition improved. Some days, she would travel all the way from Chembur to Powai to feed the child, while other days, she used to send her milk in a cold storage box.

Another success story
Nikita (name changed) a 26-year-old from Thane could not lactate due to thyroid issues and opted for the service for her newborn. She registered herself and was given four options. She chose the closest mother, who sent her the milk in a cold container. “It was really a helpless moment but thanks to my donor who came forward,” she said.

“For the first six months, feeding a new born child with mothers’ milk is inevitable as it helps in forming the immunity. But going to milk banks to procure milk is challenging for new mothers. Whereas, through this online service, it is easier as the lactating mothers can come to the houses to feed the child,” said Nikita.

Benefits of breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is crucial for a newborn, especially in the first six months. “The milk contains all the vitamins and nutrients a newborn needs for the first six months. It helps in building up the nutrition among them that works as a shield from other infections and diseases,” said Dr Mukesh Agarwal, head of the paediatric department at KEM hospital.

The risk factor
While an online community of breast milk donors is a boon, it comes with a risk factor. While feeding a child, the mother has to be very careful as deadly diseases like HIV and hepatitis can get transferred to the newborn if the donor has them. To rule out the possibility, milk banks in the Sion, KEM, Cama and JJ Hospitals conduct required tests to ensure that the human product is safe for the consumption. However, in this case, the recipients have to take the risk in the absence of a test process.

Doctors claim that this can be dangerous for the health of the child. Dr Rekha Daver, head of the gynaecology department from JJ hospital told mid-day, “It can be really unsafe for the child to be fed the milk of a woman without knowing if she has HIV or Hepatitis B-C that also spreads through breast feeding. What if the woman doesn’t reveal it or unaware of the disease?”

“We don’t take risk regarding that, but we inform both the donors and recipients about it. If the recipients want to, they can directly question the donor mother about their health reports to clear things out for the safety of the newborns,” said Agarwal.

Number of requests made for breast milk on the platform since August 2016.

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