There’s good news for Singapore parents, and it’s long overdue.
Singapore has just got its first ‘official’ breast milk bank! According to Channel NewsAsia, Temasek Foundation Cares (part of the Temasek group) and KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) have come together to launch Singapore’s first human milk bank.
The launch took place on August 17, by former Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob. Madam Halimah Yacob also informed that, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore has issued a statement that it is acceptable for premature Muslim babies to drink donor milk, as it is for the child’s well being.
The 3-year pilot programme is expected to benefit about 900 babies receiving neonatal care at KKH, Singapore General Hospital and the National University Hospital. KKH hopes to recruit 375 donors for donating their excess milk.
About 8 in 10 sick babies in KKH’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Special Nursery have to drink formula milk for premature babies, as their mothers do not produce enough breast milk for them.
The need for a breast milk bank in Singapore
We all know that breastfeeding is the gold standard in infant nutrition; the WHO recommends that all babies be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months.
For mums facing challenges in breastfeeding and have no issues with donor milk, Singapore had no official breast milk bank to rely on, earlier. Hence this partnership between Temasek Foundation Cares and KKH seems like a step in the right direction.
Here is why an official breast milk bank in Singapore is good news:
- For premature babies: Babies most in need of such a milk sharing platform are the preemies. Babies who are born early can’t always feed at the breast right away. Because of their small size and lack of muscle development, they may have a harder time latching on or staying latched on to the breast.
Also their mothers might not be able to produce sufficient milk, and it might take them several days or weeks to establish a proper milk supply.
Apart from the obvious benefits, studies show that breast milk significantly reduces the chances of a premature baby getting infected with necrotising enterocolitis (NEC).
Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) happens when tissue in the small or large intestine is injured or begins to die off. This causes the intestine to become inflamed. The intestine can no longer hold waste, so bacteria and other waste products pass through the intestine and enter the baby’s bloodstream or abdominal cavity. This can make a baby very sick, possibly causing a life-threatening infection. NEC typically affects babies born before 32 weeks gestation. Breastfed infants however, rarely show signs of NEC.
- For normal babies whose mothers are unable to breastfeed: Some mummies want their babies to benefit from the benefits of breast milk, but are unable to breastfeed due to low supply or difficulty in latching etc. A breast milk bank is hugely beneficial in such a case.
- For breastfeeding mums with excess milk: There are so many mums with an over abundant supply of breast milk like celebrity mum Zoe Tay. Rather than waste this ‘liquid gold’ away, why not donate it to a baby in need? Which can also be comforting to a mum, who feels ‘guilty’ about offering her baby formula?
- More regulation and less health risks from sharing: Previously, mummies in Singapore had to resort to more informal platforms like Human Milk for Human Babies-Singapore, an online network that puts donor mums in touch with mums needing breast milk for their babies. Apparently, mothers in need of milk for their babies can put up a request, while donor mums list the amount of breast milk they are able to donate, as well as general information like health conditions etc.
This process works on a trust basis, and Channel NewsAsia has quoted site administrator Khatim Hamidon as saying, “In the end, the donor mums are also giving the same milk to their own babies, so there is also that reassurance.” Still, one never be fully sure of any illnesses that can be passed on from the donor. Plus, there is the chance of food poisoning if the expressed milk hasn’t been handled properly.
Some mothers with excess milk have also been known to sell them on platforms like Carousell. And there have been cases of ‘pervert’ buyers with a fetish for breast milk who bring an ugly angle to the whole scenario! In an official breast milk bank, you can be assured that your precious breast milk reaches babies in need. Donors will also be screened for infectious diseases, so the overall process is much more reliable and trustworthy.
Challenges for a breast milk bank in Singapore
‘Building’ a breast milk bank in Singapore is not easy and comes with its fair share of challenges:
- Screening for infectious diseases: Donor mums would have to be tested for diseases like HIV, Hepatitis B and C, syphilis etc. As breast milk is a form of bodily secretion, such diseases can also be transmitted through the milk to the baby.
Channel NewsAsia quotes paediatrician and neonatologist with SBCC Baby and Child Clinic, Dr Natalie Epton, as saying that, the ideal donor mum should be, “a mother of a child who has not yet started on solid foods, where the milk is still at that level of immaturity that is similar to that of a newborn.” And it goes without saying that donor mums should be non-smokers.
- Expensive affair: Rigorous health screening, pasteurisation, microbiological testing, and frozen storage makes running a breast milk bank an expensive affair.
However, considering that breast milk reduces the risk of infections and allergies, while improving blood pressure and bone density, this initiative might well be worth all the trouble, when you consider savings in associated health care costs each year.
Also READ: Buying breast milk online
(Source: Channel NewsAsia, KidsHealth.org)
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