Saving the lives of small and sick newborns: The first Human Milk Bank at a central pediatrics hospital

Mar 22 2022

Hanoi, March 22, 2022: Vietnam National Children’s Hospital officially has announced the grand opening of its Human Milk Bank after four months of trials with the direction of the Ministry of Health and support from the Government of Ireland, Alive & Thrive, and Newborns Vietnam.

A 26-week premature baby is being spoon-fed with pasteurized breastmilk from the Human Milk Bank while her mother has a temporary lack of milk. Photo credit: Viet Nam National Children's Hospital

This first Human Milk Bank in Hanoi will provide donated breastmilk for more than a thousand at-risk babies being treated at the Vietnam National Children’s Hospital, who are temporarily unable to access their own mothers’ milk. In the near future, the bank plans to expand its scope of operations, providing sufficient human donor milk for neighboring hospitals in the Red River Delta.

Associate Professor Tran Minh Dien, Director of the National Children’s Hospital, declared at the grand opening, “Pasteurized and screened human donor milk is a life-saving medicine that increases vulnerable infants’ chance of survival and good health.” Dr. Dien further explained, “Studies show that for vulnerable infants, in comparison to commercial milk formula, pasteurized human donor milk can reduce the possibility of infections during the first 28 days of the neonatal period by 19%, decrease hospitalizations by 15 days, and shorten the intravenous feeding time by 10 days[1].”

Precautions and testing ensure the safety of vulnerable babies who use donated milk. Mothers need to pass a blood test and other requirements to become human milk donors, while their raw collected breastmilk will be microbiologically tested before and after pasteurization. Since October 2021, the Human Milk Bank has received over 600 liters of donated human milk from 38 mothers whose infants were undergoing treatment at the hospital. Dr. Le Thi Ha, Director of Neonatal Care Center at the National Children’s Hospital, reported that pasteurized human milk has been provided to 280 babies, including 62 babies affected by COVID-19, either infected themselves or with mothers with COVID-19 too severe to breastfeed.

Mrs. Khanh Ly, a human milk donor, shared her experience. “While taking care of my preterm baby at the Vietnam National Children’s Hospital, I saw many other babies in the intensive care unit having digestive and respiratory problems and missing out on nutrients from their mothers’ milk. After seeing the other infants struggling, I wanted to share my breastmilk, and I am thankful for the opportunity to support other families in raising their children,” she explains. Mrs. Khanh Ly’s baby is now seven months old, and she continues to donate her surplus breastmilk.

The Human Milk Bank at the Vietnam National Children’s Hospital, supported by Alive & Thrive, the Embassy of Ireland and Newborns Vietnam, is among seven Human Milk Banks and satellite Human Milk Banks currently in operation in Viet Nam. Mr. Seán Farrell, Development Specialist at the Embassy of Ireland in Vietnam, stated, “Ireland is proud to contribute to the Human Milk Bank network in Viet Nam. Human Milk Banks nourish the group that is furthest behind – vulnerable babies, including those born prematurely, underweight, or infected with COVID-19. I would like to thank all the human milk donors and staff of the Human Milk Bank, and all other Milk Banks in Vietnam. You are devoted to supporting miracles – giving a better chance at strong, healthy lives.”

[1] Quigley M. & McGuire W., (2014). Formula versus donor breast milk for feeding preterm or low birth weight infants. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 4. Art. No.: CD002971. DOI: Herrmann, 10.1002/14651858.CD002971.pub3

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