Celebrating International day of the Midwife

Tuesday, 5th May 2015

The South African Breastmilk Reserve (SABR) honours midwives for the critical role they play in facilitating a healthy start to life for babies and a positive birth experience for mothers this International Day of the Midwife, celebrated globally on Tuesday, 05 May 2015.

As childbirth specialists, midwives are trained to recognise and assist with normal labour progression by assessing the intensity and frequency of contractions, the mother and baby’s pulse rate and the position of the baby’s head. Midwives offer emotional support to women in labour and are the first port of call for a new mother, providing valuable guidance on caring for a new born baby.

“The South African Breastmilk Reserve wishes to recognise all midwives for their efforts to encourage new mothers to breastfeed their babies for at least six months. With only 7.2% of South African women breastfeeding exclusively at six months, midwives play an important role in developing a breastfeeding nation,” said Stasha Jordaan, breastfeeding activist and executive director of the SABR.

“I find it very satisfying being a midwife. I see how women are empowered and grow in strength through their birth experiences,” said Heather Pieterse, midwife and owner of Midwives Exclusive in Pretoria.

“After birth, we make sure the mother and baby have uninterrupted skin contact in the golden hour. This is when the baby will crawl up the mother’s chest and open its mouth in anticipation of latching onto the breast. The first feed provides an initial lining of the gut, which is so incredibly beneficial for long-term intestinal health. It is the first immunisation a baby gets. In terms of fighting allergy, building immune system and growth – breastfeeding is the biggest gift that a mother can give her child in its life.”

As a midwife, Pieterse has to answer many questions from new mothers who may be concerned about breastfeeding. “It is important that mothers get support when they start breastfeeding. Sometimes they are scared that they won’t produce enough breastmilk to feed their baby. I tell them that if you continue to feed your baby frequently, the demand for breastmilk increases and so the body naturally increases supply.”

All midwives, registered with the South African Nurses Council have completed a four year training course through a Nurses College or University. Their work does not keep regular hours, as babies can be born at any time of the day or night. “You’re on call 24-7 as a midwife, your phone is always on in case a mother goes into labour,” says Pieterse.

SABR encourages mothers to breastfeed their babies and donate breastmilk. “The donated milk is given to premature babies in neonatal intensive care units who are not strong enough to breastfeed, but are in urgent need of the blend of nutrients breastmilk contains,” said Jordaan.

Midwives Exclusive supports SABR by running one of many donation ‘corners’ at their practice in Pretoria. Pieterse says, “Donated breastmilk is literally saving babies’ lives. As midwives we have the perfect opportunity to discuss breastmilk donation with mothers who have the choice to breastfeed. They can sign up as donors at our practice and we supply them with special storage bottles from the SABR. In one month our corner received 20 litres of breastmilk, but it really varies depending on how many mothers are actively donating breastmilk.”

Breastmilk can be frozen for up to three months, however SABR encourages mothers to donate within two weeks of expressing in order to maintain the best quality. SABR are responsible for pasteurising the donated breastmilk which is then redistributed to premature babies at hospitals across the country.

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 www.sabr.org.za or call 011 482 1920 or e-mail: info@sabr.org.za.