Donors flock to China's first breast milk bank

China's first such facility in Guangzhou is visited by many mothers as its hotline rings non-stop, helping sustain sick babies in need

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 April, 2013, 5:23am

Guangzhou mothers flocked to the mainland's first breast milk bank to donate to premature babies and other needy infants.

"I have so much breast milk that I am using it to bathe my 100-day-old son and make my own facial masks, because I just don't want to see it go to waste," said June Chen Fengqun, 33, who breast-fed her daughter, now aged six, until she was two.

I have so much breast milk that I am using it to bathe my 100-day-old son and make my own facial masks, because I just don't want to see it go to waste
June Chen Fengqun

Many mothers including Chen yesterday flocked to China's first breast milk bank, which was launched in late March, at the Maternity and Childcare Hospital in Guangzhou's Zhujiang New Town following media reports on the initiative.

The bank's donation hotline rang non-stop, with mothers inquiring about the donation procedures. Two mothers had to share a pumping machine at a time as donors packed the bank's waiting room.

The non-profit bank has four rooms - for milk collection, storage, a work area, and the reception area.

Dr Liu Xihong , one of the bank's two founders, was thrilled to see its strong reception by mothers. "It has taken us about one-and-a-half years to plan," she said.

"We surveyed 300 mothers and found that only 21 per cent of them were willing to donate milk, while just eight per cent of mothers agreed to let their children consume breast milk from other mothers. We were really worried about how well received the project would be. But the reality has exceeded our expectations."

The hospital has invested about 700,000 yuan (HK$870,000) and is ready to invest a further 300,000 yuan at least this year to buy more equipment to collect breast milk.

"It's not a novelty around the world, but it's definitely the first in China," said Liu.

"We mainly target babies born prematurely, those with severe infectious diseases, or those who have just come out of intestinal or heart operations or even chemotherapy," she said.

"The immunological components in breast milk cannot be replaced by formula powder, which is vital for consuming nutrition, medical treatment and immune system adjustment."

Dr Liu said they hoped to extend the bank's operation by getting a suitably equipped vehicle to collect breast milk regularly around Guangzhou.

"It's also definitely part of our goal to help other infants outside Guangzhou, but the priority for now is to satisfy demand in this hospital," she said.

Steven Liang, a 26-year-old mother who takes a 30-minute trip by taxi to the bank three times a week to donate, said: "I was first moved by a story of a baby struggling with intestinal fistula (an abnormal passage). That just broke my heart, so I want to do whatever I can to help."

Since the bank's establishment, 62 mothers have donated nearly two litres of breast milk, which was fed to four babies in the hospital.

The first donor was a local television presenter, Xu Liang . A keen advocate of breastfeeding, Xu promotes the practice on her programme, and carries portable breast pumps with her at all times.

"A friend told me the hospital was planning to build a breast milk bank, so I volunteered without realising I would actually become the first donor," Xu said, adding that she would help feed other babies, two months after giving birth herself."Too many mainlanders are brainwashed by formula powder companies and give up on breastfeeding. I find that very strange, as it's only natural for us to breastfeed. It's a wonderful thing to do," she said.

"It is safe, economical and environmentally friendly. I think you can save up enough to buy a compact car if you stick to breastfeeding for two years or more."

According to Liu, the bank's founder, before mothers donate they have to undergo stringent screening for infectious diseases such as hepatitis B, HIV or Aids and must fulfil a number of requirements such as being a non-smoker and having no history of alcohol or drug abuse. Even heavy tea drinkers and mothers who gave birth 10 months ago or earlier will not be accepted. Liu said the donated breast milk would be pasteurised and could be stored for up to six months.

"Donating milk is good for mothers and others in need. The more you pump, the more milk you can produce," she said.