SINGAPORE: In response to a growing trend among mothers in Singapore opting for companies that freeze-dry breastmilk and turn it into a powder, experts have raised concerns about its suitability for babies with weak constitutions and premature infants.

The practice of freeze-drying breastmilk and turning it into a powder aims to extend the shelf life of breastmilk from the original six months to three years. The process involves deep freezing the breastmilk for three to five hours before extracting water over two days, transforming frozen breastmilk into milk powder. Generally, one litre of breast milk yields 10 per cent milk powder.

The recent surge in demand is attributed to limited freezer space in smaller Singaporean homes, convenience during travel, and the desire to continue breastfeeding beyond the initial maternity leave.

While this service provides convenience, it comes at a cost due to the significant electricity consumption during the freeze-drying process and associated labour expenses. But the costs haven’t deterred a section of Singapore mothers.

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Operating for the past nine months, one local company has processed the breast milk of 150 mothers, while another caters specifically to Muslim mothers, utilizing a designated machine. The majority of customers are working mothers or foreigners residing in Singapore.

Experts, however, have warned that not all babies are suited to taking freeze-dried breastmilk.

The Breast Milk Donation Bank and Department of Neonatology at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) noted that the technology has advantages and disadvantages.

While freeze-dried breast milk is lightweight and doesn’t require refrigeration, crucial nutrients, immune factors, and probiotics may be compromised during the process. The impact of freeze-drying on these essential components remains unknown.

KKH warns against feeding freeze-dried milk powder to infants with weak constitutions, such as premature babies or those with compromised immunity or chronic illnesses. Freeze-dried products are not sterile, and there is a risk of bacterial multiplication during storage.

Traditional breastfeeding is also recommended by doctors for the close contact between mother and child, promoting a sense of security and enhancing parent-child bonding.

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Doctors advise individuals considering freeze-drying services to ensure companies maintain sterile conditions during breast milk handling, conduct regular nutritional and bacterial tests, and possess complete equipment.

Mothers receiving freeze-dried products are also advised to store them properly, adhere to the recommended date of use, and follow instructions for reconstitution with the appropriate amount of water.

As the interest surrounding freeze-dried breast milk grows, experts stress the importance of prioritizing the well-being of infants, particularly those with specific health concerns, and call for thorough research on the long-term effects of this practice on essential breast milk components.