Singapore launches first human milk bank
Donated breast milk goes to premature and sick babies
By Toh Ee-ming
Singaporean mothers who do not have enough breast milk to feed their premature or sick infants will now be able to draw on Singapore’s first human milk bank – launched as part of a new three-year pilot between KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) and Temasek Foundation Cares.
The programme aims to “provide a ready supply of safe, pasteurised human breast milk” donated for premature and sick neonates of mothers who may be unable to provide adequate breast milk to support their babies’ requirement”, said KKH and Temasek Foundation Cares in a statement.
It is set to benefit 900 babies, and aims to recruit 375 donor mothers who are willing to donate their excess supply breast milk to KKH, Singapore General Hospital and National University Hospital over a three-year period.
Funded by Temasek Foundation Cares, the milk bank – which is managed by KKH – will collect, screen, process and store breast milk received from donors.
The bank will follow strict international guidelines for donor screening, recruitment and education, laboratory testing, processing and storage of the pasteurised milk, before it is dispensed for use.
Dr Chua Mei Chien, director of the Temasek Foundation Cares donor human milk bank programme and senior consultant at KKH’s department of neonatology, said breast milk is the nutritional standard for infants in the first six months, and contains white blood cells and antibodies which can protect the baby against infections, for instance.
Citing how some mothers may be unable to meet the breast milk requirements for their babies due to pre-term or complicated deliveries, or other pre-existing conditions, Dr Chua added that providing such safe, pasteurised breast milk from donors to these vulnerable babies – which tend to have weak digestive systems – would help them “benefit from this ideal source of nutrition while also significantly improving their chances of development and recovery”.
Currently, there are about 350 very low birth weight infants receiving neonatal intensive care in Singapore’s public hospitals each year.
For instance, at KKH, up to 80 per cent of sick babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Special Care Nursery receive formula milk meant for premature babies, due to inadequate supply of breast milk from their own mothers.
Donors are required to go through a stringent donor screening process, and learn about the handling and storage of the breast milk.
The babies eligible for this programme must also be born prematurely at less than 32 weeks of gestation, weigh 1800 gramsme or less at birth and are at a high risk of being diagnosed with necrotising enterocolitis - a gut condition where the intestines can become damaged due to death of tissue.
The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) has declared that it is permissible for premature Muslim babies to benefit from the milk bank if their mothers are unable to lactate in a statement issued on Thursday.