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Newborns benefit from breast milk sharing banks in Vietnam

Sunday, February 18, 2018, 20:54 GMT+7

An increasing number of newborn children in Vietnam have immensely benefited from lifesaving breast milk shared on social networks by complete strangers over recent years.

The infants were born premature, are allergic to milk available at the market, or have lost their mother to medical complications.

Nguyen Anh Quy, 31, a resident in Tan Phu District, Ho Chi Minh City posted a notice on a milk-sharing forum with a membership of over 4,000 to donate her breast milk to other women in need.

She shared she had more than enough milk for her 20-day-old baby, and was willing to give others two liters of her own milk every day.

Quy chose to give her milk to a father whose newborn was kept in intensive care at a hospital located approximately four kilometers from her home.

“The short distance guarantees the milk stays fresh and is hygienically ensured,” she explained.

The husband traveled to Quy’s place every day for several days and stored three or four packs of her fresh milk in a thermos container.

Pham Ngoc Oanh, 29, who was nursing her two-month-old daughter, also donated her milk to other desperate mothers.    

Over a month later, the little girl received milk from three different ‘mothers.’

Due to the generosity of the forum members, Oanh now has enough of her own milk to feed her baby.     

Milk bank

An increasing number of mothers have sought milk from the online communities and Vietnam’s first human milk bank despite initial hygienic concerns.

The baby of Tran Thi Hoai Thuong, from Da Nang, survived his first days on the milk from the milk bank, established in February 2017 by the municipal Obstetrics and Pediatrics Hospital.

The bank is expected to store enough breast milk to help feed between 3,000 and 4,000 premature or diseased infants across Da Nang and Vietnam every year.

The milk supply is donated by healthy mothers across the country and is pasteurized and tested for diseases before being kept in sanitized storage for future use.

“My baby, born around 2.5 months premature, failed to cry and weighed merely 800g upon delivery. The nurses carried him away instantly,” Thuong recalled.

Thanks to the medical staff’s counseling and support, the young mother managed to yield her own milk and even donated her breast milk to the bank.

Thuong has acquired useful tips on how to collect and store breast milk properly and has so far contributed over 50 liters of her own milk to the bank.    

An expert provides instructions on how to collect breast milk at the Da Nang Pediatrics and Obstetrics Hospital's human milk bank. Photo: Tuoi Tre
An expert provides instructions on how to collect breast milk at the Da Nang Pediatrics and Obstetrics Hospital's human milk bank. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Since launching nine months ago, more than 2,300 babies, including motherless newborns and those with no access to breast milk have thrived on a total of over 1,350 liters of the milk donated by 147 mothers.

According to Dr. Tran Thi Hoang, deputy director of the Da Nang Obstetrics and Pediatrics Hospital and head of the milk bank, funding comes from Margaret A. Cargill and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundations, which aim to promote breastfeeding in Vietnam by providing lactation support for Vietnamese mothers.

Technical support for the international-standard milk bank is provided by global health innovation organization PATH and the Alive & Thrive initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the governments of Canada and Ireland.

Medical staff at the facility are professionally trained and equipped with modern tools to guarantee correct operations and the safety of its milk supply.

“Without insurance coverage, families must pay a certain sum for access to the invaluable nutrients, which is also one of our prime concerns,” Dr. Hoang said.

The Alive & Thrive initiative is currently working with partners to expand the model to other cities and provinces, with Tu Du Hospital, an established obstetrics infirmary in Ho Chi Minh City, to be next on the line.

Dr. Nguyen Thi Tu Anh, head of Tu Du Hospital’s neonatal department, revealed the facility had long intended to set up such a milk bank.

The infirmary welcomes more than 65,000 newborns each year, with over 15 percent suffering from premature delivery, birth defects and respiratory problems.

These children are in dire need of breast milk, which optimizes digestion and disease prevention.

More than half of the prematurely delivered newborns lack access to breast milk during their time at the hospital.

Dr. Anh stressed the need on strictly adopting hygienic procedures in collecting breast milk to minimize risks of infantile disease contraction.

Newborns drinking bottled breast milk are not able to fully develop their senses or IQ at the same rate as their breastfed peers.

Frozen breast milk also has a lower content of fat, vitamin C, antibody and fat digesting enzymes, Dr. Anh noted.

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Ngoc Hanh / Tuoi Tre News Contributor

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