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India

From Breast To Baby … Via A Mother's Milk Bank

India accounts for 20% of the world's infant mortalities, and parents in this male-dominated society often reject newborn daughters. A milk bank in Udaipur helps to prevent the deaths of premature babies and to feed those abandoned at birth.

At Udaipur's milk bank
At Udaipur's milk bank
Jasvinder Sehgal

UDAIPUR — Sonu Nagda is breastfeeding her 8-month-old daughter. She has more than enough milk, so she regularly donates some of it to her local milk bank in the Indian city of Udaipur. "Donating breast milk doesn't cost me anything," Nagda says. "Think of the infants whose mothers have died or the mothers who aren't able to feed their children."

The Divya Mother Milk Bank is run by a local non-profit that also runs an orphanage for abandoned children in Udaipur. Devendra Agrawal, a yoga guru who heads the group, says most of the children are girls. "We decided to educate the people that if you don't like your daughters, gift them to us," he says. "Within no time, hundreds of daughters were left in our orphanage."

Agrawal noticed that many suffered from low immunity before realizing that it was because they weren't receiving mother's milk, the ideal food for the healthy growth and lifelong immunity of an infant.

The bank, which has been running since April 2013, collects 40 liters of breast milk every month. Most, but not all, of the bank's milk is given to premature babies receiving care at the government-run hospital in Udaipur. "During the last two years, after the bank came into existence, almost 2,500 mothers have donated more than 16,000 units of milk to save almost 1,300 infants from untimely death," Agrawal says.

Despite achieving major inroads in the care of newborns, India still accounts for 20% of the world's infant mortalities. Doctors say the main killers in India are infections and low birth weight.

To prevent these deaths, the charity Save the Children says breast milk is the most effective solution, particularly when a baby is breastfed immediately after birth and exclusively for the first six months.

The milk bank follows strict control measures. "We first check the milk for the major three diseases, including HIV, which can be transmitted to the infants," says Manorma Dangi, who works in the milk bank's laboratory. "We also do a health checkup of the donor. She is checked for blood pressure, malaria, TB, jaundice and other diseases. When all these reports are negative, only then do we accept the donation."

Saroj Kumari, 15, is here to get some breastmilk for her aunt, who is unable to produce enough to feed her two-week-old twin babies. "Since coming here, their weight has increased considerably," she says. "Before, they were very small."

Kumari vows to repay the bank for what it has done for her family when she becomes a mother.

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So even those thousands of miles from the battlefields have been hit by the soaring prices of basic necessities.

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