A mother’s breast milk is the birthright of a newborn child

In continuation with our series on women who made a lasting impression in the medical field we bring to you the story of a pioneer. Dr Jayashree Mondkar is a doctor who helped utilise the idea of the human bilk bank, conceptualised by Dr Almeida Fernandez, into fruition. Since the past 30 year she has overseen the work-related to the milk bank and as seen it evolve from a small idea into a bigger movement, which has helped save countless lives of innocent newborn children  

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We all know, no other product available in the market, can substitute human breast milk. Mother’s milk for an infant acts as a protector, builds immune power and also helps in the overall development of a child.

But, there are a few children, who are deprived of their mother’s milk. Due to various reasons, their mothers can’t breastfeed the child. What will happen to them? What about their development? This question troubled the minds of a group of doctors at Mumbai’s civic-run Sion hospital way back in the year 1989.

Finally, their collective thought process paved a way to a much bigger project and Asia’s first ‘Human Milk Bank’ came into existence.

And in regards with this initiative, Dr Jayashree Mondkar, Dean of civic-run Sion Hospital, has been associated with the concept of the ‘Milk Bank’ right from the beginning.

While speaking to My Medical Mantra Dr Jayashree Mondkar, Dean of Sion hospital says, “We studied the infant mortality rates. We found out that the root cause of the death was, due to not getting a mother’s milk. This forced us to think about what can be done to save these kids? And that’s how the Human Milk Bank came into existence.”

On November 27, 1989, Asia’s first ‘Human Milk Bank’ was set-up in Sion Hospital. This milk bank has help save thousands of lives, over the years. It will soon be completing 30 years.

In those days, Dr Jayashree Mondkar was attached to the Neonatal Care Unit of the hospital, and worked as an associate professor at the hospital.

Dr Mondkar further said, “The ‘Human Milk Bank’ was altogether a new concept for the doctors, as well as the mothers. Therefore, initially, it was very difficult for mothers to accept it. The mothers used to deny donating their excess breast milk, saying it was wrong and they will not donate their milk. We had to counsel the mother and the family to let her donate milk.”

Speaking about how the scenario has changed over the years, Dr Mondkar, said, “Over the past 30 years, the situation has drastically changed. Due to the awareness among young mothers, we now receive a call from them directly, as they are willing to come forward in order to donate their breast milk. With the help of a breast milk collection van, the milk which is collected is brought to the hospital for further processing.”

Dr Mondkar said, the then Head of the Department of the Neonatology, Dr Almeida Fernandez, was the brain behind the idea of the ‘Human Milk Bank.’

Back then, Dr Mondkar was an associate professor, then in 1989 when the first Human Milk Bank was started.

And now, 13 ‘Human Milk Banks’ are operating all over India, and thousands of children have been benefited due to this.

Dr Jayashree Mondkar added, “In Sion Hospital, 600 to 700 pregnant women give birth each month. Out of which, 250 to 300 are admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). For mothers who can’t breastfeed their child, or a child who has no mother, is given breast milk from the human milk bank.”

With the help of awareness on the concept, as of today, 7,000 to 8,000 mothers have donated their breast milk at the Human Milk Bank.

“We store the extracted breast milk in a container. But, we make sure that the women who are donating their breast milk are not suffering any diseases such as HIV, hepatitis, and diabetes. The milk is pasteurised at a particular temperature for a few days, and then it is given to the children who have been deprived of breast milk,” says Dr Mondkar.

The Human Milk Bank has helped save thousands of lives over the past 30 years in India. Dr Mondkar and her team are now spreading awareness so that no child will be deprived of their right to drink breast milk