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China Sets Up First Breast Milk Bank

posted 9 May 2013, 03:24 by Mpelembe   [ updated 9 May 2013, 03:24 ]

Mothers donate breast milk to China's first milk bank during its trial period as food safety scandals trigger public concern.

 GUANGZHOU, GUANGDONG PROVINCE, CHINA (MAY 8, 2013) (REUTERS) -  Mothers donate their breast milk to China's first milk bank as public concern roars in a country riddled with a series of food safety scandals.

About 80 mothers have pumped three litres of their breast milk for the bank inGuangzhou city in south China since it first opened in late March for a trial period.

The Guangzhou Women and Children's Medical Centre spent over 500,000 RMB (81,500 USD) to facilitate the bank, which has already provided breast milk to six babies, including prematurely born ones, and a 11-year-old child.

On Wednesday (May 8), 30-year-old Li Zhiai donated her milk to the bank for her fourth time.

The mother of a five-month-old boy first wiped her breasts clean before a nurse cupped a disposable plastic pump on her left breast.

Watery white drops of milk were collected in a small bottle and reached 120 mL. The nurse then positioned the pump on her other breast.

In ten minutes, Li has donated a total of 190 mL of breast milk.

"Why do I come here and what motivates me? It's for the babies. Just for the babies. I learned about sick babies on TV and media reports and I feel pity for them. This is the main reason," Li said.

Chinese mothers have been closely guarding their infants' diet since chemical-laced baby milk formula killed six children and sickened 300,000 across the country in 2008.

Many had crossed the border to Hong Kong to buy milk formula in bulk before the government imposed a two-tin-per-person quota earlier this year.

To add to the scare, a recent crackdown by the authorities revealed that rats and small mammal meat have been passed off as mutton in Shanghai and easternJiangsu province.

The scandal, along with the spread of a fatal bird flu virus and the still inexplicable discovery of over 16,000 rotting pigs in a Shanghai river, brought the food safety issue back into the limelight.

"Yes, yes, yes, this is a very important reason. In our country, there may be a lot of problems with food safety, especially milk formula's damage to babies is too great. So up till now, my baby only drinks formula milk once in a while, mostly I try my best to feed him breast milk," Li said.

About 30 percent of Chinese mothers practice breast-feeding, according to the milk bank's co-founder Liu Xihong.

The number drops to less than 20 percent in urban areas, she added.

A mother must go through a blood test and other health screenings before she qualifies to be a donor, Liu said.

The donated milk is pasteurized in 62 degrees Celsius water for half an hour and tested in a laboratory before being certified safe for consumption.

The milk can be stored in a freezer at -23 degrees Celsius for three to six months, she added.

Liu hoped the milk bank can help promote breast feeding in the country.

"Fundamentally, the number (of breast-feeding mothers in China) is not very big. So how would they have extra milk for donation? This is one problem. Another one is, (people think) 'why do I have to feed other mothers' milk? Even if I don't have milk, I can feed milk formula.' So their knowledge on milk formula and human milk are both lacking," Liu said.

Liu said her goal is the milk bank can one day help feed some 200 children and infants who are hospitalised in the 15-storey Guangzhou Women and Children'sMedical Centre.

On average, a baby drinks 200 to 300 mL of milk per day, Liu said, so the current inventory is only enough to feed 10 babies for one day.

The milk bank will officially open in early June.