‘The situation is very serious’: Breast milk bank pleads with breastfeeding moms to donate amid shortage

"Every single day that we keep a baby breastmilk fed is a day that baby is protected..."

“Every single day that we keep a baby breastmilk fed is a day that baby is protected…”

Undernutrition still causes 45% of all child deaths, and some 165 million children around the world have stunted growth, according to UNICEF

After experiencing an extended ‘milk drought’ that has the potential to put hundreds of premature and ill babies at risk, a local breast milk bank is pleading with breastfeeding mothers to donate their milk.

Milk Matters is a community-based breast milk bank that pasteurises and distributes donations of screened breast milk from healthy donors to premature, ill and vulnerable babies whose own mothers cannot supply the breast milk to meet their baby’s needs.

The organisation, which has been operating since 2003, has reported that they are struggling with a short supply with the same amount of demand and with mothers who have contracted Covid-19 generally kept separate from their neonates, being unable to bring in breast milk becomes “a big problem”.

“We are heading not only into the festive season, when donations generally drop as do new donor registrations, and also into the 4th wave of Covid-19 infections when we need increased donations of breast milk to meet the demand. The situation is very serious,” says Jenny Wright, who is the CEO of Milk Matters.

“We are pasteurizing less every day than we are giving out, which is a problem,” says Wright.

“We’ve been at the point where practically everyday this past week and a half, we’ve been going out to a [milk] depot to collect milk or hope that a mother has dropped off something, because our freezer is empty, meaning we don’t have milk to pasteurize the next day,” explains Wright. 

Also see: Four important things to do if your baby is born prematurely

Why breast is best 

According to Wright, over 90% of the babies that receive donor milk are in a hospital, most of whom are under 1kg in weight, while a normal birth weight is approximately 3kg. 

“[The babies] are very premature, their systems are immature and they’re prone to a whole lot of different complications, but one of the most serious ones is necrotising enterocolitis (NEC) which is a very serious bacterial infection of the intestine and premature babies are particularly prone to it – and formula is a particular risk factor,” she says.

According to Jenny, premature babies are 6 to 10 times more likely to get NEC if they are having formula milk instead of breast milk, which could lead to complications such as having to have part of their bowel removed. 

It has also been proven that breastfeeding reduces malnutrition and a multitude of infections.

“It gives them a better chance of not only surviving, but actually thriving. That’s why it’s so important.”

Also read: ‘Most wonderful form of communication’: Lactation specialist addresses new mom breastfeeding concerns

A bridge to breastfeeding

Milk Matters supplies breast milk for 25 different hospitals in any given year and ideally, they provide for 1500 babies per year. This equates to much more in terms of the days the babies are fed. 

In the last financial year, Milk Matters was able to supply 9000 days of feed, which is 9000 days of creating a lifeline for these tiny babies.

“Moms need to understand that they don’t need a lot of milk to donate. That’s the misconception.”

Even 50ml of breastmilk can feed a baby for 24 hours, says Wright.

“Every single day that we keep a baby breastmilk fed is a day that baby is protected from NEC and other things and is more likely to survive.”

“We would like to invite the breastfeeding mothers of Cape Town to be part of the solution by donating their breastmilk so more vulnerable premature babies can receive the life-line of donor breastmilk.”

“The impact is huge. The more that we can keep these babies breastmilk fed, the better, because they just should not be getting formula – it’s too risky.”

For more information on where and how to donate, visit the Milk Matters Facebook page here


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