The donkey milk, known for its therapeutic value since ages, is back again in Telangana with the price quoted higher than a cow milk but pediatrics insist that mother’s milk for the first six months is the safest way to keep babies healthy.
In pre-vaccination period, donkey milk was given to infants to develop resistence against cold, breathing problems, whopping cough among others and even now it is seriously suggested by grandmothers who grew up with the knowledge. The much-acclaimed donkey’s milk is also part of the Ayurvedic treatment due to its medicinal value.
Though the practice has almost eroded from the memory of many people, tribals in Vemulawada in Karimnagar district are still nurturing the demand for donkey milk, said a report.
Yellaiah, a proud owner of five donkeys, is the sole seller of donkey milk in Karimnagar during the mornings and the price is a whopping Rs.30 per 10 ml which is enough to give a child as a medicine to resist many ailments.
Gone were the days when donkey milk was available just for askance in the region as every washerman was having at least a couple of donkeys and the milk from donkey was given as a quic-pro-quo to his customers’ families when new babies were born.
With the two-wheelers taking on transport in every village and town, donkeys have almost become a rare species in many parts of India as was the case in the West, including Americas, where donkeys were a poor man’s horse.
The price of each animal is Rs.30,000 now, which is more than a cow’s price in the market now and even higher in some places. Yellaiah from Vemulawada who had bought three donkeys, each at Rs.30,000 is earning Rs.500 to Rs.700 daily but the demand is seasonal, he says.
Only during the monsoon and winter seasons, when children are prone to breathing ailments, the demand goes up and rest of the year it is virtually nil, he says. Hence, the high price when demand is high but sustaining in the business is still a challenge for him.
But medical experts differ on donkey milk’s merits and say sometimes it is harmful. Sriram Pothapregada from the Department of Pediatrics, Indira Gandhi Medical College and Research Institute, Pondicherry says they came across two cases where infants died after they were given donkey milk.
He wrote: “We witnessed two children in our hospital who expired due to donkey’s milk aspiration. The first was a term male baby delivered by spontaneous vaginal delivery with a birth weight of 2.6 kg and received mother’s milk within half an hour of delivery, and was accepting feeds adequately. On 2nd day of life the neonate was brought with cyanosis, bradycardia and apnea. Copious amount of milk was found in the oral activity and the neonate expired subsequently despite our resuscitative efforts.
Another term male baby with birth weight of 2.9 kg, who was accepting sufficient breast milk feeds, was brought to us with no signs of life; examination revealed aspiration of milk. In both the infants, the parents accepted that they had tried to feed them donkey’s milk.”
Insisting that mother’s breast milk is pivotal, he said, “There is no scientific evidence for the use of donkey’s milk in newborns. Myths and superstitions should not be allowed at the cost of safe feeding practices.”
He says first identifying and stopping the prevailing harmful feeding practices in various communities and parts of the country should be taken up and parents should be taught that there is no alternative to mother’s milk for the first six months.
Rubbishing the age-old tradition, he says, “The grandma recipe of giving donkey’s milk should give way to safe feeding practices. Not only the neonatologists and health workers, but the community as a whole should play a definitive, positive and continuing role.”