Sourcing milk from human milk banks is safe, say experts

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, apprehensions about the safety of milk sourced from human milk banks for newborns are unnecessary, experts say.

In a State like Tamil Nadu that has been setting up milk banks at various hospitals, adequate precautionary measures are in place, they say.

As the World Breastfeeding Week that is observed during the first week of August comes to an end, experts in child health, stressing on exclusive breastfeeding, say human milk banks are safe during the pandemic.

J. Kumutha, expert adviser-Child Health, National Health Mission-Tamil Nadu, said that according to the available scientific evidence, milk from milk banks was safe for newborns. “There is a three-tier safety net starting with precautionary measures during collection from donors, pasteurisation of milk at 62.5 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes and freezing it,” she said.

The screening questions for mothers that included hepatitis B, HIV and other recent infections now included COVID-19, she said.

According to Ketan Bharadva, president, Infant and Young Child Feeding chapter of the Indian Academy of Pediatrics and president of Human Milk Bank Association (India), there are about 80 milk banks in India established or in the process of being set up, with Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu accounting for the largest number.

“Sourcing milk from milk banks is safe during COVID-19. For infants whose mother’s milk cannot be available for whatever reason, the next best option is pasteurised donor human milk from a scientifically operated standard milk bank. There is convincing evidence in pre-print scientific journals that coronavirus is killed by pasteurising milk through the Holder method. Standard milk banks routinely use the Holder method,” he said.

Tamil Nadu has 23 milk banks, said S. Srinivasan, State nodal officer, Child Health. “The government’s policy is to promote exclusive breastfeeding for six months. If the mother is very sick and cannot breastfeed, we provide milk from the bank for a baby. This milk is very safe as we do a thorough screening,” he said.

Already, there is a set criteria for donors. Donors whose breast milk can pose a risk to recipients are not accepted for donations. They include mothers who regularly use medications with the exceptions being prenatal vitamins, human insulin and thyroid replacement hormones, those suffering from hepatitis B and C, HIV and venereal diseases and those using tobacco products or having any severe medical illness, Dr. Bharadva added in an email interview.

Now, COVID-19 has become one of the criteria. Donors who had tested positive for COVID-19, who were in close contact with a COVID-19 patient or illness suggestive of COVID-19 in the last two to three weeks could not donate milk, he noted.

There is convincing

evidence...that coronavirus is killed through Holder Pasteurisation

Ketan Bharadva

president, Human Milk Bank

Association (India)

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