By Hafizah Rafie, BMSG Breastfeeding Counsellor
On 17 August 2017, the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital together with Temasek Foundation, launched a 3-year pilot programme known as the ‘Temasek Foundation Cares- Donor Human Milk Bank’ programme. This programme is a non-profit initiative launched to provide pasteurised human donor milk to premature (less than 34 weeks) and sick infants. It will begin at KK hospital in the first year, after which the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and National University Hospital (NUH) will follow.
Breastmilk can be life-saving for premature and sick babies as their immature digestive system is prone to feeding intolerance. They are also at risk of developing a life-threatening condition known as “necrotising enterocolitis”, a serious intestinal disease among premature babies. These premature babies are not able to process infant formula milk. Furthermore, mothers of premature babies may sometimes experience difficulty in producing breast milk especially in the initial days. With this initiative, mothers of premature babies can receive human donor milk from other breastfeeding mothers without worrying about the impact of the milk on their babies’ sensitive digestive system.
Under this programme, the donor milk will be screened, processed and dispensed by prescription in accordance to the international guidelines. The donated milk will be tested for infections before and after the process of pasteurisation. Milk collected from each donor will be kept at 50ml per bottle. Small volumes of feed of 1-5ml will be administered every 2 to 3 hours. Each bottle of 50ml will not be given to a specific baby. Instead, the 50ml of milk will be distributed to as many premature babies as possible. This means that each baby will receive only 1 feed from that particular bottle of 50ml. Thus, a baby will receive milk from about 20 women throughout the time in the NICU, without knowing the amount of milk consumed from each individual donor. In addition, all donors will be kept anonymous. However, if the baby’s own mother starts to produce milk at any point, the mother’s breastmilk will be given first, followed by any added amount required from the human milk bank.
It is important to note that the premature babies will continue to receive donor milk until they are 34 weeks old or until their weight exceeds 1.8kg.
The criteria to be a donor is rather stringent. The breastfeeding mother has to be breastfeeding a baby who is less than 1 year old; a non-smoker; not tested positive for HIV, Hepatitis B and C or Syphilis. Apart from that, the mother cannot be taking any illegal drugs, not consume more than 2 alcoholic drinks a day and not drink more than 3 cups of coffee or tea a day. This strict criteria is to ensure that the babies receive as much nutritional value from the donated breastmilk as possible.
All premature babies regardless of their religion will benefit from the donated human milk bank. The Islamic Religious Council in Singapore (MUIS) has issued a ‘fatwa’ (religious ruling) that Muslim babies who receive milk from the donated milk bank will not be related to the donors by any kinship ties. Thus, Muslim parents in Singapore can be reassured that they can receive the human milk for their premature babies if the mother has difficulty in producing milk in the initial days. With the launch of the human milk bank, parents with premature babies can breathe easy as their babies will now be able to receive human breastmilk and not depend on formula. This will aid in their recovery and wellbeing.