Guest of Honour, Madam Halimah Yacob (centre) at the launch of Singapore’s first donor human milk bank, with (from left) A/Prof Ng Kee Chong, Chairman, Medical Board, KKH; Prof Alex Sia, CEO, KKH; Mr Richard Magnus, Chairman, Temasek Foundation Cares; Prof Ivy Ng, Group CEO, SingHealth; Ms Woon Saet Nyoon, Chief Executive, Temasek Foundation Cares; and Dr Chua Mei Chien, Head and Senior Consultant, Department of Neonatology, KKH.

 

In August 2017, KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH) launched Singapore’s first donor human milk bank programme to provide a ready supply of safe, pasteurised human breast milk donated for vulnerable premature and sick neonates whose mothers are not able to provide enough breast milk to support their babies’ needs.

Funded by Temasek Foundation Cares, the $1.37 million three-year pilot programme aims to recruit approximately 375 healthy and eligible mothers, who are willing to donate their excess breast milk, to benefit 900 babies receiving neonatal care in KKH, Singapore General Hospital* and National University Hospital*.

“Breast milk is the best form of nutrition for babies, containing white blood cells and antibodies that protect the baby against infections and improve their chances of survival. The fat globules in breast milk enable better brain and vision development. This makes breast milk especially beneficial for premature and sick newborns, who have immature and weak digestive systems that make them prone to feeding intolerance.

“Providing safe, pasteurised donated breast milk to these vulnerable babies allows them to benefit from this ideal source of nutrition while also significantly improving their chances of development and recovery,” says Dr Chua Mei Chien, Director, Temasek Foundation Cares Donor Human Milk Bank Programme, and Head and Senior Consultant, Department of Neonatology, KKH.

The first of its kind in Singapore, the KK Human Milk Bank will collect, screen, process and store breast milk received from donors, following strict international guidelines for laboratory testing, processing and storage of the pasteurised milk, before it is dispensed for use. Eligible donors will be required to undergo a stringent donor screening process and blood tests, as well as education on the handling and storage of the breast milk prior to donation.

Every year, about 350 very low birth weight infants receive neonatal intensive care in Singapore’s public hospitals. Despite best efforts to support breastfeeding, up to 80 per cent of sick neonates in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and Special Care Nursery receive formula milk meant for premature babies, either totally or partially, during their hospital stay due to inadequate supply of breast milk from their own mothers.

“As a Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative-certified hospital, we are committed to improving neonatal and infant health and supporting mothers in their endeavours to breastfeed before birth by providing breastfeeding education, during their hospital stay and after they are discharged,” adds Dr Chua.

“This precious supply of ready, safe, pasteurised donor breast milk will be greatly beneficial in helping us to reduce the risk of potential complications in the babies, while optimising their immunity, development and overall health.”

* Available to these hospitals after the first year of operation.

 

Pioneering programmes to boost mothers' health and give babies a better start to life

With the vision to provide excellent, holistic and compassionate care for women and children, KKH continually seeks better and more effective ways to improve patients' lives. Ongoing efforts received a welcome boost in late 2017, with collaboration between KKH and Temasek Foundation Cares to introduce pilot programmes to help optimise detection and care for women with gestational diabetes mellitus, and launch Singapore's first donor human milk bank programme to provide donated breast milk to premature and sick babies in Singapore.