Malayalam documentary ‘Hanna’ highlights the importance of breastmilk donation

Vinu Janardanan’s documentary Hanna celebrates a mother who donates breastmilk at the milk bank at General Hospital, Ernakulam

Updated - January 04, 2024 03:17 pm IST

Published - January 04, 2024 12:49 pm IST

Hanna Sarah Prince in the documentary Hanna directed by Vinu Janardanan

Hanna Sarah Prince in the documentary Hanna directed by Vinu Janardanan | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

When the World Breastfeeding Week was observed in August last year, it was a momentous day for Hanna Sarah Prince, an echo cardiographer at the General Hospital, Ernakulam. She was felicitated at the event for donating breastmilk to Nectar of Life, the human milk bank set up at the hospital. Narrating her story is the documentary, Hanna, directed by Vinu Janardanan.

“When I came across a small news report about Hanna being honoured at the event, I was curious and wanted to learn more about the bank. Once I read up more on the topic I realised the importance of her work. That’s when I decided to document Hanna’s gesture,” says Vinu.

The 17.07-minute documentary is also an attempt at creating awareness about breastmilk donation, he says. “It is a fact that the first milk that a newborn receives is crucial for the baby’s health. According to UNICEF, only 56% newborns in India receive breastmilk within the first hour of their birth,” Vinu adds.

Hanna Sarah Prince with daughter Milo Shinto

Hanna Sarah Prince with daughter Milo Shinto | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Vinu, who has scripted the work, says that Hanna looks at the life of the 27-year-old protagonist from the perspectives of the hospital’s superintendent, a nurse at the milk bank, and a gynaecologist.

Hanna and her husband, Shinto Varghese, a native of Pulluvazhy near Perumbavoor, Ernakulam district, became parents to Mila Shinto in October 2022. Hanna says in the documentary that it was not easy for her to leave her daughter behind and rejoin duty after her maternity leave. “It hurt me that I was not able to breastfeed her. My breasts would hurt when the milk accumulated. I had to use a breast pump to extract the milk at least three times a day. That was when I came to know more about the milk bank at our hospital and thought of donating the milk,” says Hanna. She started donating the milk from the first week of March 2023.

Dr Shahirsha R, superintendent of the hospital, says in the documentary that he is proud that a staff member in the hospital was voluntarily donating the milk. “The honour we accorded her is nothing compared to the magnanimity of her act”, he says.

Hanna Sarah Prince (right) with Aswathy M, nurse at the human milk bank, in a still from the documentary Hanna directed by Vinu Janardanan

Hanna Sarah Prince (right) with Aswathy M, nurse at the human milk bank, in a still from the documentary Hanna directed by Vinu Janardanan | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Nectar of Life, opened on February 5, 2021, is the first human milk bank in the State. Rotary Club of Cochin Global, which set up this bank, went on to launch a second one at Jubilee Medical Mission Hospital in Thrissur. The third milk bank (Comprehensive Lactation Management Centre) is at the Institute of Maternal and Child Health at the Government Medical College Hospital, Kozhikode.

The documentary explains the parameters and procedures that go into the collection and the storage of milk. Usually it is the newborns admitted in neo-natal intensive care unit at the hospital who need this milk.

Vinu Janardanan

Vinu Janardanan | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

It has also addressed myths associated with breastmilk donation. Some women are averse to feeding a child other than her own. Dr Sasikala Prabhu, a senior gynaeocologist, points out in the documentary that the composition of breastmilk is the same and there is nothing wrong in feeding someone else’s baby. “People also think that if you donate milk that will reduce the secretion of milk. But the fact is that the more you donate, the more milk you secrete,” she says.

Vinu points out that not all mothers willingly come forward to donate milk at the bank.

Hanna, who used to donate thrice a day at the bank, now donates once daily. “Until the hospital felicitated me I wasn’t aware of the significance of what I have been doing. My daughter gives me a beautiful smile while I feed her. Even though we don’t know each other, when I close my eyes I can see the smiles of other babies. I feel blessed,” she says.

Vinu has produced the documentary with Anoop Ravindran and Sumesh Lal. The co-writer of the National Award-winning documentary Chembai My Discovery of a Legend, Vinu has directed the documentaries, The Agam Story and Memoirs of Devaki. His interview series, Here & Now, airing on Rosebowl, recently completed 100 episodes.

Aneesh Chandran is the cinematographer, Sudheesh MS the editor and composer is Madhuvanthi Narayanan.

Vinu is currently scouting for opportunities to screen the documentary.

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