10 things to know about Singapore’s first Human Milk Bank

Since there are strict rules, find out if you’re fit to donate your breastmilk to help preemies in need!

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Your breastmilk is your newborn’s best source of nutrients in the first 6 months of his life, especially if bubba was born prematurely. A mother’s breastmilk contains vital white blood cells and antibodies that’ll protect her munchkin from possibly fatal infections.

Dr Chua Mei Chien, head and senior consultant at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital’s (KKH) department of neonatology, says the immature and weak digestive systems of premature and sick newborns make them prone to feeding intolerances. “Exposure to formula milk feeding predisposes these vulnerable babies to potential complications, including a higher risk of infection and necrotising enterocolitis (NEC).”

NEC is a potentially fatal condition that occurs when an infant’s intestinal lining dies or is injured, which causes inflammation. Giving such babies breastmilk reduces their NEC risk, while boosting their immunity, development and overall health.

“Exposure to formula milk feeding predisposes these vulnerable babies to potential complications, including a higher risk of infection and necrotising enterocolitis.”

However, some small preemies lack the proper muscle reflexes to latch on or stay latched on their mother’s breast. Premature babies who don’t have the suck-swallow-breathe reflex will need to be fed via a tube from their nostril or mouth. These mothers may not be able to provide adequate breastmilk to meet their baby’s needs.

Such mums can now look to Singapore’s first Donor Human Milk Bank programme for help. Launched on 18 August by KKH and non-profit organisation Temasek Foundation Cares, it hopes to recruit some 375 nursing mothers to donate enough breastmilk to benefit 900 babies.

Dr Chua, who is also the director of the donor milk bank programme, adds. “If we receive more donations and can benefit more babies, we will be happy to support.”

Here’s what you need to know about the programme…

1) Donors will need to undergo a stringent screening process If you want to donate your breastmilk, you must take a blood test to check for the following infectious diseases: HIV, Hepatitis C and B and syphilis. You are considered an unsuitable donor if you…

* Have used illegal drugs, tobacco products or smoke;

* Consume more than three cups of tea, coffee or cola daily;

* Pierced your ears or body, or got a tattoo or permanent body makeup in the past 12 months;

* Have a partner who’s at risk of HIV infection, and other requirements; and

* If you are breastfeeding a child aged 1 and above.

2) You won’t need to observe any dietary restrictions to donate your breastmilk As long as you meet the list of requirements, you don’t have to watch what you eat. The Fatwa Committee of Muis has also given donor milk a stamp of approval for premature Muslim infants.

3) You are an unsuitable donor if you lived in Europe for more than five years after 1980 You’ll also be rejected if you were based in the UK for more than three months between 1980 and 1996. Dr Chua explains that this is because mad cow disease was prevalent during this period and you may have been exposed to it, especially if you had surgery or received blood products. This renders your breastmilk unsafe.

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4) So that hygiene is observed, donors will be taught how to express and store their milk Eligible donors will receive bottles packed in a cooler bag along with an ice pack. Milk bank staff will teach you how to express your milk and store it in your freezer and cooler bag for transporting to KKH.

5) No collection services will be offered since the milk bank is a not-for-profit initiative You’ll be advised to drop off your breastmilk within two hours of storing it in the cooler bag. Dr Chua notes, “However, if the donor would like to authorise her loved ones to drop off the donated milk to the bank, they are able to do so.”

6) The donor milk will be pasteurised, tested for bacterial contamination and stored in a freezer A pre-pasteurisation sample will be taken from the collected samples to test for bacteria. The results will also reveal if a donor has followed the prescribed process of collecting and storing the breastmilk. Individual donor records are kept to ensure that the donated milk can be traced from donor to recipient. Your frozen breastmilk will be kept for no more than three months from the expressed date.

Individual donor records are kept to ensure the donated milk can be traced from donor to recipient.

7) To be eligible for donor milk, newborns will need to fulfil various requirements The infant would need to be a Singaporean or Permanent Resident born at KKH. He is also a preemie (born before 32 weeks), weighs 1.8kg or less at birth and be at high risk of, or suffers from NEC. The mother must also be unable to provide sufficient breastmilk to meet his needs.

8) The donor milk will be supplied until baby meets specific criteria Infants will stop receiving pasteurised donor milk when they are more than 34 weeks old, discharged or when their mother establishes their own milk supply. In the meantime, Dr Chua stresses, “The mother will be supported by KKH’s team of lactation consultants to build up her own milk supply.”

9) Doctors will decide how much milk each preemie gets Dr Chua states, “The amount of milk given will be based on the volume of milk prescribed daily by the doctor caring for the baby.” Other factors such as the baby’s weight, his existing medical conditions and how well the infant is tolerating the given milk will also be taken into account.

10) Plans are afoot to offer this programme in more hospitals Only preemies born at KKH will be covered by the programme in the first year. From the second year, the programme will be expanded to include infants born at the Singapore General Hospital and National University Hospital.

Photos: iStock

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