Tuesday, 17th March 2015

This Human Rights Day, the South African Breastmilk Reserve (SABR) celebrate a massive decline in infant mortality rates – signalling progress in the protection of the right to life for the youngest members of the country.

Reports from 2009 show that in one year more than 70 000 children died before reaching their fifth birthday*, but this figure has halved. Statistics South Africa’s latest research reveals that under-five infant mortality is just over 35 000 a year**.

“This decline tells a story of numerous successful interventions aimed at reducing infant deaths, many of which are caused by intestinal infectious diseases,” said Stasha Jordan, breastfeeding activist and executive director of the South African Breastmilk Reserve. “We celebrate the joint efforts of those healthcare professionals, mothers and fathers who are committed to saving, growing and preserving future generations. Promoting breastfeeding as the first choice food for new-born babies is a critical part of infant survival.”

“Conclusive evidence shows that the minimal handling of babies weighing less than 2 kilograms, coupled with exclusive breastfeeding and the usage of donated breastmilk drastically reduces infant mortality,” said Jordan.

Jordan described the drop in infant deaths as a “really promising step towards meeting the fourth Millennium Development Goal,” which aims to reduce the under-five mortality rate by two thirds between 1990 and 2015.

Chapter Two of the Constitution contains the cornerstone of South Africa’s democracy, the Bill of Rights. Section 11 states that, everyone has the right to life. The right to sufficient food is contained in section 27, while section 28, specifically for children, makes provision for a child’s right to care and basic nutrition.

However these rights are still threatened by low breastfeeding rates. Just 7.2% of all South African mothers breastfeed their babies exclusively for the first 6 months, while UNICEF report that non-breastfed infants are 14 times more likely to die in the first six months of life, than exclusively breastfed infants.***

Deaths associated with malnutrition remain high amongst infants and toddlers who are fed artificially. “Breastfeeding in low-resource environments is a key survival strategy, because it alleviates the social and economic burdens of death, disease and poverty by providing nourishment and immune protection for babies living in the most inhumane conditions,” said Jordan.

The SABR believe that a human infant, like any other mammal, should be fed from the mother’s mammary gland. “It is not only natural, but it is fundamental to promoting good health, survival and life. Babies have human rights, including the right to life,” said Jordan.

Donated breastmilk is classified as an emergency procedure, which is especially critical in the first 14 days after birth and is a temporary life-saving solution for babies whose mothers cannot breastfeed. Intestinal disease, diabetes, childhood cancer, obesity, respiratory conditions and cognitive development are amongst more than 60 conditions associated with the lack of breastfeeding.

Research indicates that human breastmilk contains comparatively high levels of lactose which is particularly important for assisting with the rapid development of a baby’s brain and secretion of large amounts of water required for urine formation and sweating. Lactose also promotes healthy immune system development and protects against infection and disease.****

A radical increase in breastmilk donations is required to save more lives. “Too many babies do not receive the most nourishing food available. We need to increase breastfeeding and breastmilk donation in South Africa for all vulnerable children,” said Jordan.

Last year SABR received donated breastmilk from 1093 donors at 44 milk banks, which was redirected to 1689 babies at 70 hospitals across the country.

“Let this Human Rights Day be a reminder to protect the right to life of those who cannot speak for themselves and reduce their risk of mortality. Mothers who donate expressed breastmilk are the unsung heroes of this country, who save many lives. Through their actions, they protect the human rights of the youngest members of society,” concludes Jordan.


To get involved and alleviate the challenges faced by the SABR, including low breastfeeding rates in South Africa, sourcing donor mothers and funding for the operation of the milk-banks, please visit or call 011 482 1920 or e-mail:

* Fresh Perspectives: Primary Health Care. Mark McClellan (Editor) Published 2009 p. 325

**Statistics South Africa. Mortality and causes of death in South Africa in 2013: Findings from death notification. Published 2 December 2014.