Written by Stephanie Li
Mothers who are unable to supply enough breastmilk to meet the need of their babies can now draw on Myanmar’s first human milk bank, which was recently relaunched after being upgraded to international standards. The facility is set to benefit 500 babies every month.
Located at Yangon Central Women’s Hospital, the Human Milk Bank collects breastmilk donated by lactating mothers who no longer need to breastfeed their babies and wish to share their breastmilk with vulnerable infants.
The service will be essential to saving preterm, low birth weight and other vulnerable babies, according to Roger Mathisen, program director of Alive & Thrive Southeast Asia, a breastfeeding initiative to save lives.
Prior to its upgrade, the Human Milk Bank significantly contributed to the reduction of neonatal mortality rate at Yangon Central Women’s Hospital from 35 per 1,000 live births in 1991 to 17 per 1,000 live births in 2017, according to Human Milk Bank coordinator Dr. Nant San San Aye.
Since 2015, the facility has worked with 20,000 mothers who donated 5,400 liters of breastmilk, benefiting more than 3,000 premature and low birth weight infants at the Women’s Hospital.
The Human Milk Bank also receives support from Myanmar’s Ministry of Health and Sports and Ministry of Construction, with plans to expand the program to five other hospitals, including Yangon Children’s Hospital, North Okkalapa General and Teaching Hospital, Central Women’s Hospital Mandalay, Children’s Hospital Mandalay and Women and Children’s Hospital Taunggyi.
In August 2018, a group of international non-profit organizations including Save the Children and UNICEF initiated a campaign to combat the aspirational marketing of formula brands and to promote the far-reaching benefits of breastfeeding for newborns and babies up to six months old. The campaign eventually reached nearly 20 million people in Yangon, Mandalay and Naypyidaw.
The World Health organization (WHO) recommends that mothers breastfeed infants exclusively for the first six months to achieve optimal growth, development and health.
“Colostrum, the yellowish, sticky breast milk produced at the end of pregnancy, is recommended as the perfect food for the newborn, and feeding should be initiated within the first hour after birth,” recommends the WHO.