By Raziah Athman
Janat has been donating her breast milk since June last year, when she gave birth.
With this bank, the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Nsambya Hospital doesn`t have to worry about availability of human breast milk for preterm babies who need it to survive.
Janat`s milk and that of many other donors can be stored safely for up to six months.
The idea to have a mother breast feed a baby that is not biologically theirs is not new, but in Uganda, human breast milk banking had never existed.
“As a donor I am so excited about this initiative and I am very proud to be saving babies` lives. There are certain babies who are out there – the preterm babies – whose mothers cannot give them sufficient milk, so if I save a life, it feels good to me ” said Janat.
According to the World Health Organization, one in ten babies is born too early every year. As experts forge solutions to the burden locally, the essential postnatal need remains human breast milk.
The milk is free of charge but they prioritize premature babies and sometimes give the milk to babies whose mothers died.
This project is a collaboration of various hospitals in Kampala. Specialized lactation nurses work at the bank that is headed by pediatrician and neonatologist Dr. Victoria Nakibuuka.
“So the only milk that a preterm baby can be able to digest appropriately with the immature gut is human milk. Any other milk predisposes this baby to infection. They usually have feed intolerance, and sometimes babies even have significant constipation. So the only thing that can make these babies survive is the human milk.”
Many of the mothers approached are positive about donating their breast milk if they have an excess. The milk is tested for bacteria before pasteurization.
Before the expression starts, a mother must sign consent forms agreeing to donating her breast milk. Then she undergoes a counseling process before blood samples are taken to check for infections like HIV, syphilis and hepatitis B.
The bank can hold up to 250 liters of milk, and that is the maximum capacity for now.
This breast milk bank may not be the answer to the increasing cases of complications during pregnancy, but for the tiny babies in need, this human breast milk provided from the bank is life.