Meet Amrita, the Chennai photographer who is raising awareness on breastmilk donation

Amrita began her project in February and launched six images during ‘World Breastfeeding Week’ that is observed in the first week of August.
Meet Amrita, the Chennai photographer who is raising awareness on breastmilk donation
Meet Amrita, the Chennai photographer who is raising awareness on breastmilk donation
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Breastfeeding in public or in private has always been a subject of severe scrutiny. Mothers are also often judged harshly when it comes to breastfeeding. ‘Is the mother breastfeeding enough?’, ‘How can she breastfeed in public?’, ‘Why is she not breastfeeding her baby?’, ‘Isn’t her baby too old to be breastfed?’

A few months ago, the photo of an actor breastfeeding a baby on the cover of a Malayalam magazine caused great furore and even protests.

While the topic of breastfeeding itself is mired in controversy, a photographer based out of Chennai is working on a personal project with the hope of raising awareness about donating breastmilk for NICU babies.

Amrita Samant has been working as a maternity, newborn, baby and toddler photographer in Chennai, Bengaluru and Singapore for the past four years. She says that her introduction to the idea of breastmilk donation happened quite recently through her friend Chintya Anish Iyer.

Chintya, who had a baby in July last year, chanced upon the idea of donating excess breastmilk through a friend. “My friends in the UK were doing it, it is pretty common in foreign countries. But I was really surprised to learn that Chennai had 7 breastmilk banks,” says Chintya, who runs a store called Intish by Chintya in Chennai.

Chintya also joined a Facebook group for young mothers to discuss breastfeeding. It was through one of its members that she came to know about these banks in Chennai and she then got in touch with Dr Shobana from Child Trust Hospital in Egmore to donate her breastmilk.

Although Chintya had some reservations initially, she soon opened up online about donating excess breastmilk.

“I posted about breastmilk donation online only when my child began weening. I had been doing it for quite a few months before I finally opened up,” she shares.

But there were a lot of naysayers. “As a young mother, I was told by relatives not to speak so openly about breastmilk. They all had their own apprehensions about speaking openly about such things. ‘What if your baby didn’t get enough milk?’ they’d say. These ideas came from a very conservative, conditioned way of thinking,” she says.

Chintya also adds that donating breastmilk itself is a very tedious process that involves a lot of commitment. “As a young mother the pumping will tire you out, it is quite draining physically. You have to be committed to continue doing it,” says Chintya.

Chintya, however, was encouraged by the response she was getting from other mothers. “I was giving away my excess milk to mothers I personally knew and many of them were telling me how it literally saved their child’s life. At some point, you prioritise donating,” she says.

Her focus, however, is to spread awareness that such a thing is possible. “The point to drive home is to ensure people know of its existence,” she adds.

The project

Amrita’s project is structured around this very idea of raising awareness. Starting in February this year, Amrita captured six striking images and launched them during ‘World Breastfeeding Week’ that is observed in the first week of August.

Amrita also collected information from Hyderabad-based lactation consultant, Kamana, to help her with her project.

“You may know that 1 ounce = 6 teaspoons, but do you know that 1 ounce of breastmilk can feed a premature baby for a full day? Studies have also shown that 80% of the problems in NICU can be prevented by feeding those babies breastmilk than formula milk,” explains Amrita.

Her project took quite some time to materialise since it involved talking to young mothers, their partners and family to make sure everyone was comfortable with the concept. “I know a lot of dialogue is based around breastfeeding in public. I want to be able to raise awareness on breastmilk donation through my project,” she shares.

Janani Lakshminarayanan, a mother of two who was one of the mothers who posed for Amrita’s project, shares that she has never hesitated to breastfeed her child in public or donate excess breastmilk.

“I have faced the problem myself. It is equal to denying someone their food. Why is it considered a taboo?” she asks.

While excess lactation is not something every mother is capable of doing, those who can most often shy away from talking openly to others. Amrita’s project hopes to wipe away those inhibitions.

How does breastmilk donation work?

Donating breastmilk is a simple enough procedure and is most helpful for premature babies who weigh below one kilogram. Donated breastmilk can also be used for older babies who have need for it.

“Mothers can store their breastmilk in the deep freezer. This milk can be stored in stainless steel containers for up to three months,” explains Dr Vanathi.

The collected milk is pasteurised and goes through screening for infections. Mothers too are requested to submit routine infection screening test reports to make sure the milk is safe for NICU babies. Those who want to learn more can get in touch with Dr Shobana or Dr Vanathi at Child Trust Hospital on 9962252104.

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