Inside Fabella Hospital’s milk bank

Renz Luigi Dahilig
Fabella is renowned as a maternity hospital and a hospital for newborns. Unknown to many, it is also one of the few existing Human Milk Banks in the Philippines

MILK BANK. The Dr Jose Fabella Memorial Medical Center Milk Bank stands as one of the pioneers in Human Milk Banking in the Philippines. All photos by Renz Luigi Dahilig/

MANILA, Philippines – Tucked away in an area near shanties in Recto, Manila, the Dr Jose Fabella Memorial Medical Hospital stands as the preferred hospital of expectant mothers – mostly from depressed areas around the metro.

The renowned maternity hospital and hospital for newborns is also one of the few existing Human Milk Banks in the Philippines. (WATCH: Help kids reach their 5th birthday)

The hospital has no shortage of mothers and babies and there is definitely no shortage of milk. With some babies born malnourished, and some mothers unfit to nurse their young, Fabella has provided a remedy in the form of its Human Milk Bank. 

Milk banking is not new in the Philippines. The Philippine Children’s Medical Center (PCMC) launched the country’s first milk bank in 1996. Under the leadership of Dr Succoro Mendoza, Fabella followed suit in 1999 and started storing milk for newborns. (READ: Why you should care about breastfeeding)

The first step for milk storage is to collect milk from new mothers. The milk is then pasteurized through a method called “Pretoria pasteurization” which involves heating milk in a flask. Finally, the milk is stored in a refrigerator. This set-up served as the building block of Fabella’s Human Milk Bank.

A fully operational milk bank was later established in March 2008, with the help of the Philippine College of Health Sciences (PCHS) and Mont Blanc, a non-governmental organization (NGO).

The PCHS provided some of the structure for the milk bank, while Mont Blanc provided equipment. (READ: Make breastfeeding work for you)

Other Philippine milk banks are located in Makati, Zamboanga, and the Philippine General Hospital.

Got milk?

BABY FACTORY. Sometimes dubbed as a ‘Baby Factory,’  Dr Jose Fabella Hospital Milk Bank boasts its large supply of milk.

Most of the milk donors come from the hospital’s own wards. Fabella staffmembers would do rounds in the wards and counsel the mothers on breastfeeding and donating milk.

In addition, interested donors may also participate walk-in sessions. Fabella also conducts milk drives. Interested donors go through a screening process where their health information and eligibility as milk donors are thoroughly checked.

Milk from qualified donors is then collected through electrical or mechanical breast pumps. The collected milk is brought to the bank for processing, where milk is mixed for homogeneity and then pasteurized.

Fabella’s human milk pasteurizer has a minimum capacity of 2 liters.

It is then stored in refrigerators and freezers – milk may last for 6 months to a year – until they are distributed.

Procedural standards are set by the Department of Health. All human milk banks must abide by these guidelines.

Two types of breast milk are collected:

  • Preterm milk: Taken from mothers of premature babies, and used only for premature babies
  • Term milk: Taken from mothers of babies born on the 9th month of  pregnancy.

On average, Fabella collects 40-60 liters of milk per month.

Getting milk

Milk collected and processed is then given to mothers who are unable to produce milk for their babies. Such conditions may include the following:

  • Prematurity
  • Intolerance
  • Medical Indications (i.e., HIV)
  • Malabsorption
  • Mothers who adopt a baby
  • Ill or deceased mother

The milk bank has certain requirements before milk is given to a patient. Those who wish to acquire milk must present a prescription and a clinical abstract which states the mother’s medical history.

Interested recipients must also provide a cooler with ice for transporting the milk. They must pay a P220 processing fee for every 100mL of milk.

In addition to individuals, the milk banks also provide milk for public and private hospitals such as the Chinese General Hospital and the University of Santo Tomas Hospital.

Milk is also donated to disaster stricken areas. Fabella donated milk to victims of Typhoon Sendong in 2011 and recently, it donated 60L of milk to those affected by Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) in Tacloban.

Running the bank

As a non-profit entity, all the processing fees go to the milk bank’s operations (i.e. testing the milk, administrative costs and equipment used in storing milk).

Aside from these fees, the milk bank depends on donations for its operations. Its staff is only composed of 4 people, plus two doctors. The small team also provides training on milk banking for different private and public hospitals.

Fabella hopes that other hospitals can establish their own milk banks in the future.

“The role of the milk bank is to provide milk temporarily, but breastfeeding must also be encouraged and continued when possible,” Dr Estrella Olonan-Jusi, Fabella milk bank chief, said.

She added that the Milk Code must be implemented more effectively to encourage breastfeeding among more Filipinos.

Owning to its reputation as a maternity and neo-natal hospital, Fabella’s Milk Bank offers hope that babies, even those from less fortunate families, will have an opportunity for a healthier life through access to information and breastmilk for those unable to get it.

Renz Luigi Dahilig is a Rappler intern.

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