Many continue to believe that donkey’s milk boosts immunity in newborns; doctors disagree

Vijaya, a resident of Perambur, recently gave her five-day-old great grandson donkey’s milk believing it would clear his throat and cure his cold. She said this was an accepted practice with her family.

Like Vijaya and her family, many others in the city hold on to this age-old “belief” that donkey’s milk boosts immunity and gives clarity of voice to newborns. Doctors decry this practice.

K. Githa, former professor of neonatology of Madras Medical College, said donkey’s milk had no proven benefits. Many other doctors agree with her. They have come across newborns with complaints of infections due to poor handling of the donkey’s milk administered to them.

“Some say donkey’s milk is equivalent to mother’s milk but unhygienic handling could lead to infections. I have heard of babies getting aspirated when the milk is forcibly fed by elders,” V. Kalaivani, superintendent of Government Raja Sir Ramaswamy Mudaliar (RSRM) Lying-in Hospital, said.

“Mothers should feed colostrum (first milk) to their babies. The constituents of donkey’s milk, such as proteins and sugar levels, vary. There are chances of the newborns developing infections. We advise them not to give donkey’s milk, sugar water and honey,” Dr. Githa said.

The infections could manifest as diarrhoea leading to dehydration especially if the baby was not exclusively breastfed, said T. Srikala Prasad, senior assistant professor of Government Kasturba Gandhi Hospital for Women and Children.

The sale of donkey’s milk is now limited to a few pockets in the city such as Perambur, Royapuram and Mylapore. But the milk is expensive and a few millilitres cost Rs. 200 to Rs. 400.

The family of Duraikannu, who works at the Chennai Corporation’s dhobi ghat on Veeraperumal Koil Street in Mylapore, sells donkey’s milk regularly.

“My uncle’s son owns a donkey and we sell milk in the morning. A “paladai” (a small feeding device) of milk costs Rs. 350 to Rs. 400. On certain days, we get five customers and there are lean days when we get just two,” he said. He cautioned that some unscrupulous sellers mixed donkey’s milk with cow’s milk.

Porkodi of Washermenpet regularly sells donkey’s milk near RSRM Lying-in Hospital in Royapuram in the early hours of the day. “I milk the animal in front of the buyers. Sometimes, there are 10 customers, mainly from the nearby maternity hospital,” she said. She claimed the milk was good for children suffering from fits and cold.

A resident of Mylapore said two families owning donkeys regularly sold the milk on P.S. Sivasamy Salai, Mylapore, but stopped recently. “Several persons used to come for the milk. Some sellers purchase milk from Perambur and sell it here. Nobody knows if it is donkey’s milk,” he said.

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