Last updated on Feb 3rd, 2021 at 01:28 pm

Eight in 100 babies in South Africa are born prematurely and, every year, approximately 11 000 premature babies die from preventable infections and complications.

“All babies have immature immune systems,” says Abby Courtenay, a registered dietician and spokesperson for ADSA (The Association for Dietetics in South Africa). “Breastfeeding plays a vital role in transferring not just nutrients, but antibodies and other immune-boosting properties to an infant to strengthen the immune system and protect them against infections. This is why breast milk is the perfect first food, and why the World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life.”

ALSO SEE: Benefits of breast milk

Why you should bank your breast milk

Many mothers who give birth to premature babies in neonatal intensive care units don’t produce milk immediately, or enough of it. Others experience health complications and can’t breastfeed. If their babies can be fed donated breast milk instead of formula, it dramatically increases the baby’s chances of survival and offers greater protection against life-threatening infections like the intestinal infection, necrotising enterocolitis. Donated breast milk also helps preemies gain weight and grow faster. This is why donated breast milk is the next best option when the mother’s own milk is not available.

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ALSO SEE: Breastfeeding a prem baby

Is milk banking a new thing?

Breast milk banking was pioneered in South Africa 16 years ago by the South African Breastmilk Reserve (SABR). Today, they have a network of 27 banking facilities across the country. The breast milk movement in South Africa has since grown to include several other initiatives such as ithemba Lethu milk bank and children’s home in Durban, the KZN Breast Milk Bank Initiative and Milk Matters in the Western Cape.

Every year, more than 1 000 South African moms help save lives by donating their milk. “What we would like to see is breast milk banking being used far more frequently,” says executive director and SABR founder, Stasha Jordan. “Expressing breast milk has become the norm for many new moms who have to return to work while still breastfeeding. Some women have an abundant supply of breast milk and can easily express more than their baby needs. That surplus can save the life of another child. Our donor moms are real heroes helping the most vulnerable in our society to survive.”

ALSO SEE: Do you have an oversupply of breast milk?

Who can bank their milk?

A healthy, lactating mom with an excess of breast milk can make donations. It’s important that you have not received a blood donation in the past year, that you are a non-smoker, that you do not consume alcohol regularly and that you are not on any medication. Donor mothers do need to undergo blood tests to be screened for HIV and hepatitis B.

How does banking my breast milk work?

  • Donor moms complete an online screening questionnaire.
  • SABR contacts you telephonically to refer you to your nearest sign-up facility.
  • Arrangements will be made for the necessary blood tests.
  • You will receive all the information you need for the safe storage of your expressed milk, which will be collected from you.
  • Your breast milk will be screened, pasteurised and distributed to help save the lives of premature babies in neo-natal intensive care units.

ALSO SEE: Tips for expressing and storing breast milk successfully

Every drop counts and small donations can also be used, so don’t be put off from donating if you don’t have a particularly excessive supply. To find out more click here.