Next week is World Breastfeeding Week. “It’s at this time of the year that we really want to encourage and remind all mothers to give their babies the healthiest start to life by breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months of their newborn’s life,” says Stasha Jordan, breastfeeding activist and executive director at the South African Breastmilk Reserve (SABR).

Breastfed babies are less likely to suffer from childhood respiratory tract infections, gastrointestinal disease, obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Research has shown that breastfeeding mothers have a decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancer and some cardiovascular diseases.* There are economic and environmental benefits too, says Jordan. “Breastmilk is free and unlike formula milk it requires no packaging, storage or transportation which makes it environmentally friendly. It is also a first step towards poverty alleviation.”

A cornerstone for child survival

“Breastfeeding is a cornerstone for child survival, nutrition and early development. We have scientific proof that immediate skin to skin contact and breastfeeding within the first hour of life significantly reduces the possibility of death for newborn babies,” says Jordan. Despite this, globally only 38% of infants are breastfed exclusively.** The South African situation is even more concerning, warns Jordan. “We have a dangerously low rate of exclusive breastfeeding – just 7% of mothers breastfeed exclusively in the first six months.”

2 834 critically ill babies fed in the past year through donated breastmilk

Sick and often premature babies that weigh less than 1,8 kilograms are not strong enough to suckle from their mothers. They urgently require the nutrients contained in breastmilk in order to gain the strength to fight infections and grow at this critical stage of life. SABR collects donated breastmilk which is pasteurised, redistributed and fed nasogastrically (using a tube inserted through the baby’s nose) to underweight babies at 87 hospitals around the country.

Subscribe to our Free Daily All4Women Newsletter to enter

SABR has established breastmilk banks which manage donor breastmilk collection, pasteurisation and storage at neonatal intensive care units. There are 21 breastmilk banks in government hospitals, 12 in private hospitals and 13 collection corners, which are interim collection and storage facilities.

In one calendar year, between March 2014 and February 2015, SABR provided donated breastmilk to 2 834 critically ill babies. This is a 67,8% increase on the previous year where SABR helped 1 689 babies. “This could not have been possible without the 1 556 mothers who donated breastmilk at SABR banks around the country. They are the true breastfeeding champions in this amazing story where babies’ lives are saved,” says Jordan.

Moms who donate milk are breastfeeding champions

In Gauteng, at Kalafong Hospital, 292 underweight and critically sick babies received breastmilk donated by 124 breastfeeding mothers. With the best supply of nutrients contained in breastmilk, every baby recipient at the hospital survived. In the Free Sate, 265 babies at Pelonomi Tertiary Hospital received donated breastmilk and at Universitas there were 246 recipients of the donated breastmilk.

“It should be the norm for underweight, sick babies to receive donated breastmilk at any hospital anywhere in the country, but it all depends on how many breastfeeding mothers have signed up as breastmilk donors. We should all be talking about the amazing benefits of breastfeeding with our family and friends,” says Jordan.

Celebrate World Breastfeeding Week by donating breastmilk

The World Health Assembly has set a global target to increase the rate of exclusive breastfeeding to at least 50% by 2025.* “SABR challenges all breastfeeding mothers to celebrate World Breastfeeding Week by donating breastmilk that will save lives and raise a healthier nation,” concludes Jordan.

To get involved and alleviate the challenges faced by the SABR, including a shortage of donated breastmilk, low breastfeeding rates in South Africa, sourcing donor mothers and funding for the operation of the milk-banks, please visit www.sabr.org.za or call 011 482 1920 or e-mail: info@sabr.org.za.

*http://www.unicef.org/nutrition/files/Breastfeeding_Advocacy_Strategy-2015.pdf

**http://www.who.int/nutrition/global-target-2025/infographic_breastfeeding.pdf?ua=1