The hospital hopes that about 375 donors will offer their excess milk over the next three years and help feed about 900 babies.
Eight of the 10 sick babies currently in the hospital’s neonatal ICU reportedly use formula milk, as their mothers do not produce enough breast milk.
The US$1.37 million programme is partly funded by the Temasek Foundation Cares.
Dr Chua Mei Chien, a senior consultant at the hospital, said breast milk contained white blood cells and antibodies that protected against infection.
“The fat globules in breast milk enable better brain development as well as development of vision,” she said at the launch event.
Volunteers will have to undergo a blood test for diseases including HIV and Hepatitis B and C. Smokers, those living unhealthy lifestyles and others indulging in “high-risk activities” will be excluded.
The World Health Organisation says babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months, providing a vital source of nutrition and antibodies.
“For premature babies, they have very premature immune and digestive systems,” said Chua.
“For these premature babies, exposure to cow’s milk can expose them to a lot of problems including feeding intolerance and the potential development of a condition known as Necrotising Enterocolitis [NEC].”
The potentially lethal disease can leave intestines damaged due to tissue death. Chua said the fatality rate for baby sufferers could be as high as 50 per cent.
Volunteers will express milk at home and freeze it and later bring it to the milk bank. Milk will be pasteurised at 62.5 °C and tested for bacterial contamination.
When the milk is brought in, it will be thawed and tested. A batch of the donated milk will be tested for bacterial contamination before pasteurisation and sent once more for a microbiology test. It is then stored in a freezer before being dispensed.
Ex-Speaker Halimah Yacob, who helped launch the milk bank, said the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore had ruled it was acceptable for premature Muslim babies to consume the milk.
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