China has officially opened its first human milk bank in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, providing mothers with an alternative way to deal with excess breast milk (other than bathing their children in the stuff).
So far, over 100 new mothers have registered to donate their breast milk at the Women and Children’s Medical Centre, and eight hospitalised babies have received donated breast milk, according to the People’s Daily.
According to the Liu Xihong, co-founder of the milk bank, the breast milk will not only be given to babies whose mothers cannot breastfeed, but also to those who are premature, sick or malnourished. For sick babies, donated breast milk has proven to be a literal lifesaver – it helped a ten-month old baby, surnamed Jiang, who was diagnosed with intestinal fibula, gain 1.65kg in just two weeks.
To fund the expensive equipment, sterilisation costs and physical examinations, the bank relies on donations from the medical centre as well as from the public, but that may soon run out. “We will not be able to keep [the bank] running for much longer without financial support,” says Liu Xihong.
It looks as if China’s entrepreneurial ‘milk nannies’ will still be in business then, as selling milk independently gives donors a sometimes very powerful financial incentive. The milk bank’s business model, on the other hand, relies heavily on volunteers who are willing to commute to the medical centre on a regular basis, which proves especially problematic for working mothers who would otherwise like to take part. The challenge will be convincing donors to do all this for free, when they could potentially save time and get paid for it elsewhere.
And then there’s the tricky ‘urgh, I don’t want to feed my baby someone else’s breast milk’ objection. That’s still a major barrier for potential paying beneficiaries, and something the milk bank is still working on.