For babies separated from mothers, support pours in offering mother’s milk

Pragathi Badarinath felt the walls closing in on her when she got her test results earlier this month. The new mother was COVID-19 positive and had to be hospitalised. She was separated from her eight-month-old infant and he was not accepting formula, perhaps due to the trauma of his mother not being around. A message of hope and support arrived in the form of many new mothers who came to her rescue.

Lactating mothers in her support circle in Bengaluru, including COVID-19 survivors, started donating breast milk for her infant. This free service lasted till she she returned home after getting discharged just before lockdown.

“We decided on a centralised collection at one woman’s house close to Ms. Badarinath’s house. We knew every drop counted. One of the woman would drop off the box at her house,” said Prachi Pendurkar, founder of Snugbub, which runs a mothers’ support group.

For infants forcibly separated from their mothers owing to the prevailing situation, other lactating mothers coming together to donate breast milk is turning out to be a boon.

“Each bag had details of who had given it, etc. For all nine days that I was hospitalised, my child got breast milk even when I was not there. We are extremely grateful. COVID-19 is such a taboo, but the woman did such a noble thing by donating to us. As a sideeffect, I am still not producing enough milk and using the remaining packets,” said Ms. Badarinath, adding that with her husband being a doctor, they were aware of the benefits. “I want to donate too,” she said.

“There are a few milk banks, but they are chargeable. Breast milk has to be stored in a certain way and for a certain number of hours. It just becomes easier with known people. Whoever is pumping is getting logistics support. In fact, mothers in Australia also contributed through milk bags etc.,” said Ms. Pendurkar, who added that the group has been seeing a lot of similar instances since the pandemic began. “We are not against formula. But there are plenty of mothers who are producing more than what the baby needs,” she added.

Mugdha Joshi, a lactation consultant, said breast milk is very important for the baby as it is customised based on genetic makeup, environment, etc. “If a nursing mother is exposed to something, her body produces antibodies and these go to the baby. Mother’s milk is also different as per the baby’s requirement, while formula for 0-6 years, for example, is the same,” she explained.

While milk banks are available, they are not within everybody’s reach, she said. “Right now, I have a patient whose baby is getting breast milk from a friend. In another case, the mother died of COVID-19 when the child was 31 weeks old. Her sister-in-law, who is also a new mother and seven months pregnant, reached out to me. I alerted about the situation on a few groups and by next morning, she had enough and more mothers willing to donate,” she added. But she recommended that the donating mother undergoes tests.

“Informally, it depends on how much you know that person. People are reluctant to accept from others these days. I usually recommend tests or requesting tests is advisable. Recovered COVID-19 patients will have antibodies. But with the scare around the disease and because it is not fully understood, it should be transparent. The mother should be informed about it and let to take a call,” she added.

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