Some 900 infants at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Singapore General Hospital and National University Hospital are expected to benefit from Singapore’s first-ever donor breast milk bank, the KK Human Milk Bank, within the next three years.
The bank, a pilot project which will be managed by KKH, is funded by the Temasek Cares Foundation which has set aside S$1.37 million for the initiative. It will collect, screen, process and store breast milk from donor mothers and hopes to recruit 375 mothers who are willing to donate their excess breast milk to feed premature or sick infants whose mothers are unable to produce milk.
According to the World Health Organisation, infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months, as it is a vital source of nutrition and antibodies.
About 350 low birth weight babies receive neonatal intensive care in local hospitals yearly. These premature and sick infants are presently fed formula milk, but that’s set to change with the program which will be pioneered at KKH for the first year of operations.
The provision of safe, pasteurized donor breast milk would improve the development and recovery of premature babies and vulnerable infants with weak digestive systems
Donors must undergo a strict screening process, including tests for diseases like HIV and hepatitis B and C, and learn about handling and storing of breast milk to be eligible for the program. The donated milk will be tested in a laboratory, processed and stored carefully before it is dispensed.
Infants must be born prematurely at less than 32 weeks of gestation, weigh 1,800g or less at birth, and have a high risk of being diagnosed with necrotising enterocolitis – a gut condition that can cause damage to the intestines due to tissue death – to be eligible for donor milk.
The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) has also clarified that Muslim pre-term babies can benefit from the bank. The Council was initially concerned as under Islamic law, if a baby consumes human milk from a wet nurse, is under two years of age and has had five full feeds from the wet nurse, the baby develops kinship ties with the woman.
However MUIS is satisfied that the issue of kinship ties will not arise from donor milk from the bank as each baby that needs donor milk will be consuming milk from about 20 different donors and might only receive 2-3 full feedings from any one donor at most.
“Muslim families can confidently allow their babies to benefit from the milk bank and in fact we encourage Muslim mothers to become donors because that will be a wonderful thing also,” Ustaz Irwan assured.
Singapore joins about 40 countries managing official milk banks, with the launch of the KKH Milk Bank.