Donate breast­milk and save lives

By do­nat­ing your breast­milk, you can help save the lives of pre­ma­ture in­fants and en­sure that other moms can also give their ba­bies the best pos­si­ble start to life, writes Riëtte Grob­ler

Your Baby & Toddler - - News -

WHEN TAYLA KRUGER was born at 31 weeks in June last year (2017), she weighed 995g. Soon af­ter birth, her weight dropped to a mere 805g.

The stress of her daugh­ter’s pre­ma­ture birth, two se­ri­ous breast op­er­a­tions when she was younger and the fact that her body was not yet ready to feed her child, meant El­rize Kruger (30) could not breast­feed her tiny daugh­ter.

“Although my milk started com­ing in lit­tle by lit­tle, I could ex­press no more than 4ml to 8ml at a time,” the Bal­lito mom re­calls. “When I fi­nally man­aged to ex­press 22ml with a breast pump, I thought my milk was fi­nally com­ing in, but by the next day it was com­pletely gone again.”

Doc­tors were hes­i­tant to give her mi­cro-pre­ma­ture baby for­mula, be­cause her un­der­de­vel­oped di­ges­tive tract would not be able to han­dle it.

“She was sim­ply too small and could die,” El­rize says.

Net­care of­fered to donate colostrum to Tayla un­til she reached 1.6kg and a nurse at the hos­pi­tal sug­gested that El­rize reach out to breast­feed­ing friends to donate breast­milk. “Pre­vi­ously I didn’t even know this was pos­si­ble,” she says.

The Krugers started a Face­book group ask­ing for help and in no time, they were over­whelmed by the kind­ness of friends and strangers who were will­ing to donate breast­milk to help save Tayla. Slowly but surely the baby started to gain weight.

“The hos­pi­tal sent us home with twenty 250ml bot­tles of breast­milk col­lected through a breast­milk donor bank and the fan­tas­tic Stanger gov­ern­ment hos­pi­tal do­nated al­most 40 bot­tles of milk by Septem­ber.”

By mid-septem­ber three-mon­thold Tayla weighed 2.76kg and was flour­ish­ing.

“Although I would have loved to breast­feed her my­self, there are no words to ex­press my grat­i­tude to those will­ing to donate breast­milk when my child’s life de­pended on it. For the first time, I re­ally un­der­stood why ‘breast is best’.”


“In the high-tech world of the mod­ern neona­tal ICU there is no sub­sti­tute for breast­milk,” says Jenny Wright, the CEO of Milk Matters, a hu­man milk bank in the Western Cape.

“All over the world it is recog­nised that only breast­milk of­fers pre­ma­ture ba­bies the nu­tri­tion and pro­tec­tion es­sen­tial for their sur­vival. When a vul­ner­a­ble baby’s own mother is un­able to sup­ply breast­milk, a breast­milk bank can of­fer this life­sav­ing gift from another mother.”

Ac­cord­ing to Stasha Jor­dan, a breast­feed­ing ac­tivist and the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the South African Breast Milk Re­serve (SABR), re­search has found that for­mula feeds were en­dan­ger­ing chil­dren be­cause it could not of­fer the same pro­tec­tion and ben­e­fits of breast­milk.

Milk Matters agrees that donor milk is the next best op­tion if a mother can­not sup­ply the breast­milk her baby needs, be­cause it dra­mat­i­cally in­creases a baby’s chance of sur­vival; pro­tects against in­fec­tions and se­ri­ous com­pli­ca­tions; of­fers ideal nu­tri­tion; in­creases im­mu­nity and does not put added strain on the im­mune sys­tem.

In hos­pi­tals where only breast­milk – from the mother or donors – is used, fewer in­fants die and cases of se­ri­ous com­pli­ca­tions af­ter birth drop.

The SABR’S vi­sion is to de­crease the num­ber of in­fants dy­ing due to necro­tis­ing en­te­ro­col­i­tis (NEC), a se­ri­ous in­testi­nal dis­ease among pre­emies, through the use of do­nated milk and to de­crease mother-to-child trans­mis­sions of the HI Virus.

Milk banks were ini­tially started to feed the or­phaned, but in re­cent years do­nated breast­milk has pre­dom­i­nantly been used in neona­tal in­ten­sive care units.

Do­nated breast­milk is pre­scribed for in­fants un­der 1.8kg, or those born at less than 32 weeks’ ges­ta­tion; in­fants younger than 14 days, and for short term use (1428 days).

The SABR does not ad­vise pro­longed use and rec­om­mends that moth­ers feed their chil­dren them­selves af­ter this pe­riod is over, if pos­si­ble. In some cases, doc­tors can mo­ti­vate the need for ex­tended breast­milk do­na­tion.

Thou­sands of pre­ma­ture ba­bies across the coun­try have re­ceived milk do­nated to Milk Matters by more than 2 000 donor moms; while the SABR has set up, op­er­ated and handed over 52 hu­man milk banks, serv­ing more than 100 pub­lic and pri­vate hos­pi­tals across the coun­try and feed­ing ap­prox­i­mately 3 000 ba­bies a year since 2003.

Ac­cord­ing to neona­tol­o­gist Dr Alan

Horn of the Groote Schuur Hos­pi­tal, breast­milk do­na­tion is worth more than equip­ment and staff.

“It is an intervention that most doc­tors them­selves can­not give, but most moth­ers can – it com­pletes med­i­cal care,” he says. “Do­nat­ing breast­milk is an act that in­volves the least pain and most gain, com­pared to any other hu­man tis­sue or or­gan do­na­tion.”


“Just 50ml of breast­milk, a mere 2.5 ta­ble­spoons, can feed a baby of un­der 1kg for a full 24 hours,” says Jenny. “This means moth­ers do not need an abun­dant breast­milk sup­ply in or­der to donate their milk. Reg­u­lar do­na­tions of 50ml or more can make the world of difference.”

New­born and pre­ma­ture ba­bies only re­quire a tiny amount (10ml or less) for each feed, adds Stasha.

“For the most se­verely ‘mi­cro-pre­ma­ture’ in­fants, 1ml of breast­milk ev­ery three hours can make a difference be­tween life or death,” Stasha ex­plains. “This is why we say ev­ery drop counts.”

Some donor moms make once-off do­na­tions of stock-piled breast­milk that is not re­quired for their own baby, while other moth­ers donate vary­ing quan­ti­ties from be­tween a few weeks up to a year or more.


The safety of do­nated milk is of the ut­most im­por­tance – from the screen­ing of po­ten­tial donors, to hy­gien­i­cally and safely ex­press­ing and stor­ing your milk.

Ac­cord­ing to Twanette Lom­bard, op­er­a­tions man­ager of the SABR, do­nated breast­milk must be frozen when it reaches them.

“If the cold chain has been bro­ken, the milk can no longer be used.”

“Milk is placed in a quar­an­tine fridge when we re­ceive it, be­fore a sam­ple is sent for test­ing,” says Twanette. “Ap­proved sam­ples are pas­teurised in a spe­cialised ma­chine that reaches a tem­per­a­ture of 62.5°C for 30 min­utes, be­fore rapidly cool­ing the milk to 15°C.”


Ste­fanie Nothard (30) from Jo­han­nes­burg’s son Ryan (18 months) was born pre­ma­turely and spent the first few weeks of his life in NICU.

She pro­duced an abun­dance of breast­milk and be­cause she un­der­stood the pres­sures of hav­ing such a small baby in hos­pi­tal, wanted to donate milk to those in need.

“The stress of hav­ing a child in the neona­tal ICU is enor­mous and hav­ing to pro­duce breast­milk cre­ates added pres­sure. In other in­stances, a mom’s life might be in danger.

“Do­nated breast­milk gives a mom a day or two to wait for her own milk to come in, while she has the as­sur­ance that her child is be­ing fed breast­milk. This peace of mind helps a lot.

“So, you are not only giv­ing the pre­emie a chance at life, you are giv­ing another mom a chance to have sup­port to pro­duce her own breast­milk.”

Do­nat­ing breast­milk gave her a sense of pur­pose af­ter the birth of her son.

“As a new mom you of­ten feel like a milk ma­chine who gets noth­ing else done but feed­ing and chang­ing nap­pies. By do­nat­ing breast­milk you feel that you are con­tribut­ing to so­ci­ety by helping ba­bies!” she says.

Stephanie says it only takes a lit­tle ex­tra work to donate. “Ob­vi­ously you have to add an ex­tra pump­ing ses­sion to your day, but know­ing you are sav­ing lives with so lit­tle ef­fort, makes it re­ally worth it.

“If you are lucky enough to carry your baby to full term, then why not donate? It’s your su­per­power!” YB


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