With an upsurge in Covid-19 cases, the breast-milk bank at Mowbray Maternity Hospital is facing a dire shortage of donated breast milk for premature babies, according to Milk Matters CEO Jenny Wright.
Milk Matters supplies donated breast milk to about 25 hospitals in the greater Cape Town area annually, and most of its goes to public hospitals, where neonatal units are the biggest and the need for donor breast milk is the greatest.
Many mothers are throwing away breast milk unaware they could be donating it, says Ms Wright.
Carene Joubert, a dietician with Milk Matters, says breast milk is donated by healthy, lactating mothers from all communities in the greater Cape Town area, and every drop counts. A few tablespoons of milk can feed a baby for a whole day. A woman’s body makes breast milk on a supply-and-demand basis, so the more milk is removed, the more is made, she says.
According to Ms Joubert, there has been an increase in the number of babies needing donated milk because their mothers have died or fallen ill from Covid. In other cases, transport problems and fear of Covid infection have kept mothers from either donating or fetching milk.
Some of the babies Milk Matters helps are born earlier than 28 weeks and weigh about 400g, the same as a tin of beans.
“Often with premature births, the mothers may be ill, have delayed onset of lactation, or be separated from their babies, thus unable to provide their own milk to their babies. Breast milk with all its wonderful properties is the most protective and ideal feed for all babies, especially these vulnerable ones,” says Ms Joubert.
Breast milk acts as the first immunisation, protecting against infections, allergies and illness. Donor breast milk is the next best option for these babies, as recommended by the World Health Organization.
Tina Burton’s twins were born at 34 weeks (instead of the usual 40), and Milk Matters provided breast milk for them for the first five days of their lives before Ms Burton’s milk came in.
“I’m forever grateful to this organisation for giving our girls what I was unable to and to the donor who provided milk – someone I will never know, and to everyone who keeps the wheels turning at Milk Matters,” she says.
Another mother, who only gave her first name as Chantel, says her baby, James, got donor breast milk from Milk Matters for just one day to top up what she was able to give him. “But that one day made all the difference and not only enabled me to increase my supply to meet his needs but I’m sure it saved his life.”
Chantel went on to donate breast milk to other babies in need.
Mowbray Maternity Hospital spokeswoman Janine Joemat says donor breast milk is a precious resource and doctors only prescribe it for those babies who need it most.
Tygerberg Hospital dietician Crystal Jacobs says the ideal breast-milk donors are breastfeeding mothers who are free of selected medications or supplements; don’t smoke, use drugs or drink; live a healthy lifestyle; are willing to undergo the screening process; and have access to a fridge or freezer
Milk can be delivered to various depots around Cape Town.
To donate breast milk or money, email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit milkmatters.org or call 021 659 5599 or 082 895 8004. You can also contact Fiela Abrahams or Crystal Jacobs at Tygerberg Hospital at 021 938 4709 /4477.