Pumwani human milk bank cuts admission of babies — analysis

Children exclusively fed on human milk left the newborn unit earlier

In Summary

• It has boosted exclusive breastfeeding rates from 41.3 per cent to 63.8 per cent

• The hospital receives a daily donation of more than five litres of breast milk

Breastmilk inside a refrigerator at the Pumwani Maternity Hospital
Breastmilk inside a refrigerator at the Pumwani Maternity Hospital

The human milk bank at Pumwani Hospital is helping to cut the duration of admission of newborns by up to 27 per cent, a new analysis suggests.

The facility was set up in 2019 to supply milk for preterm babies whose mothers had died or were not present, and full-term babies whose mothers were unable to breastfeed.

The analysis shows the babies are highly tolerant to stored milk which is not from their mothers.

Researchers observed more than 100 newborns and assessed the impact of the intervention.

It included exclusive use of human milk, initiation of human milk as the first feed, feeding intolerance and the duration of stay at the newborn unit.

Before the milk bank started, the researchers said only 41.3 per cent of neonates exclusively used human milk during their admission.

Immediately after the bank was set up, this figure surged impressively to 63.8 per cent.

The researchers were from different institutions including the Ministry of Health, Unicef and the Pumwani Hospital.

“The higher rate of exclusive use of human milk associated with the intervention was not surprising,” they said.

“Given the high acceptance of the human milk banking concept among key stakeholders, including women and healthcare workers.” 

Children exclusively fed on human milk left the newborn unit earlier, cutting the duration of admission by about 27 per cent compared to children who received formula milk.

The findings were published last week in the Mother and Child Nutrition journal.

Equally noteworthy is the surge in newborns whose first feed comprised human milk, escalating from 55 per cent preintervention to an impressive 83.3 per cent postintervention.

This shift highlights the success of the intervention in promoting optimal feeding practices right from the initiation of neonatal care.

Breastmilk works as the baby’s first vaccine to boost immunity and serves as a baby’s best source of nutrition during the first six months of life, laying the foundation for good health and survival beyond the five-year mark.

“Although Kenya has national human milk bank guidelines to guide the setting up of human milk banks in the country,” the authors said.

“There is still a need for an appropriate regulatory framework to ensure compliance with the minimum quality, safety and ethical standards.”

Others were from the African Population and Health Research Centre, Path, Gertrude's Children's Hospital and the University of Nairobi.

The study is titled, ‘Potential effectiveness of integrating human milk banking and lactation support on neonatal outcomes at Pumwani Maternity Hospital, Kenya’.

The hospital says it receives a daily donation of more than five litres of breast milk.

This has seen the hospital cut down on expenses on baby formula. The hospital only purchases formula milk for emergencies. Before the bank was launched, the facility used to buy milk substitutes in bulk.

Keziah Njau, a nursing officer working at the milk bank, last year said the facility has saved abandoned babies who would otherwise have missed out on a mother’s milk.

“There are babies who are abandoned and those babies literally don’t have a mother, so they are fed with human milk, and they get good nutrition,” she said.

Currently, the hospital has a pasteuriser, which has a capacity to hold 9.4 litres of milk, two fridges and four freezers with 240 litres capacity.

The milk is pasteurised at a high temperature (60.5 per cent for 30 minutes) and then cooled suddenly to ensure all microorganisms are killed.

Because of the high temperatures, the milk may lose a few micronutrient components, but then the destruction of harmful viruses will be assured. So the milk will have all the other benefits.

“We get quite a lot of milk in a day. We can record like five litres of milk and we have freezers full of milk,” Njau said.

“We have even been requesting the institution to add us more freezers because we are receiving a lot of milk.”

Data from the Ministry of Health shows that 39 in every 100 children in Kenya are not exclusively breastfed for the first six months after birth.

WATCH: The latest videos from the Star