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Donated breastmilk saving more babies in Eastern Cape hospitals

Thursday, 16th July 2015

Efforts to curb a high infant mortality rate in the Eastern Cape are showing promising results thanks to a partnership between the South African Breastmilk Reserve (SABR) and the Provincial Department of Health. Last year SABR coordinated collection and redistribution of life-saving donated breastmilk to 124 critically sick babies in the province; this number is set to increase as the programme expands.


“Breastmilk is literally saving lives in the Eastern Cape, one of the provinces plagued with the highest number of infant and premature deaths in the country,” says Stasha Jordan, breastfeeding activist and executive director at SABR. “More SABR milk banks and more donated breastmilk in the province means more lives can be saved – it is that simple,” adds Jordan, Breastmilk is the best and most nutritious food source for babies and donated breastmilk is urgently required to feed critically ill and underweight babies who are not strong enough to feed from their own mother naturally. Without a nutritious food supply, these babies lack the strength needed to fight for their lives. Out of the 124 severely ill, underweight babies that received donated breastmilk in the province last year, only one baby did not survive.

SABR began distributing donated breastmilk collected at Uitenhage’s Netcare Cuyler Hospital in 2007 in a pilot facility. “The donated breastmilk has been given to critically ill premature babies at Dora Ngiza and Uitenhage Provincial hospital with great results,” says Jordan. Doctors, nurses and provincial health representatives have witnessed the success of the breastmilk reserve and plans are underway to roll out more SABR corners at other hospitals in the province. “We currently have seven SABR facilities in the Eastern Cape; three are fully operational at Netcare Cuyler, in Uitenhage, Cecilia Makiwane Hospital in Mdantsane and Dora Nginza Hospital in Port Elizabeth. St Elizabeth Mission Hospital in Lusikisiki and at Frontier Hospital in Queenstown are recruiting donors and available for queries and the SABR banks at Madzikane KaZulu Hospital in Mount Frere and the General Hospital in Mthatha are in the final stages of installation,” says Jordan.

The new breastmilk bank at Cecelia Makiwane Hospital in Mdantsane already collects 30 to 40 bottles of donated breastmilk from donor mothers in the hospital each month. Nursing sister Nobathembu Mafanya and registered dietician Kim Venter set up the SABR breastmilk bank at the hospital in November last year. In its first seven months the SABR bank redistributed donated breastmilk to 45 babies in the hospital’s neonatal unit, many of them premature babies, all weighing less than 1.8 kilograms. The hospital is lead by a committed multidisciplinary breastfeeding team of healthcare professionals.

“The gratitude on the faces of the moms whose infants receive donated breastmilk is enough to know that SABR is making a difference in their lives,” says Venter. The donated breastmilk is given to underweight babies that are too weak to breastfeed but urgently require the best combination of nutrients to gain strength and full health.
“I am constantly amazed that mothers take time to donate their breastmilk while caring for their own infants. We’d love it if more breastfeeding mothers would donate breastmilk so that we can expand our operation,” says Venter, who is passionate about paediatric nutrition.

“Breast really is best. There are countless benefits of breastmilk for infants. Feeding artificial milk to premature and low birth weight infants increases their risk for developing life threatening intestinal diseases like necrotising enterocolitis. It can be avoided if a baby receives breastmilk,” says Venter.

SABR will continue to raise awareness of breastmilk donation in the province. “We can only hope that we grow bigger and better, collect copious amounts of donated breast milk and are able to help many other babies,” says Venter.

“We urge everyone in the province to participate in this life saving initiative,” concludes Jordan.

To get involved and alleviate the challenges faced by the SABR, including a shortage of donated breastmilk, 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: