Fighting stigma, overcoming resistant relatives and tackling logistical challenges. This is the kind of capital investment that went into the creation of a unique breast milk bank by a small network of women in Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu. The milk bank initiative was started by the Coimbatore Parenting Network, comprising Minu Gnanamoorthy, Dr Aishwarya, Swathi Jagdish, Gotha Hari Priya and Kumutha Chandrika K, and currently has a network of nearly 1,000 mothers donating breast milk for children who are either abandoned or whose mothers cannot generate milk for medical reasons.
“One of the challenges we faced was how to change the mindset among mothers who believe that if they give their milk to someone else, their baby will not get enough. There were a lot of taboos also around it, that you cannot give it to another child. We had to break all that,” Gnanamoorthy (second from left) tells Outlook. Husbands would also deter their wives from donating breast milk fearing their spouses would turn weak as a result.
“In the beginning, we did not have any infrastructure. We used to store it in each of the trustees’ refrigerators. Our freezers used to be full of mothers’ milk, which we later handed over to the local government hospital,” Gnanamoorthy adds.
Research and enquiries also led the members of the network to the discovery of special bags in which breast milk could be stored. It is a delicate affair, considering that breast milk easily curdles at normal room temperature. “We tell our mothers to store the milk in the milk bag, keep it in the freezer and we go and take it from them. College students volunteer to pick up and deliver the milk for us,” Gnanamoorthy says.
(This appeared in the print edition as "The Milk of Kindness")
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