In August 2001, Prof Anna Coutsoudis, through her work in the Department of Paediatrics and Child Health at the University of Natal, opened the “iThemba Lethu Breastmilk Bank” under the auspices of iThemba Lethu.
Breastmilk is superior nutrition for babies; superior in every sense because it is a living substance. It contains cells and antibodies that are active in fighting infection. It contains substances such as essential fatty acids; these are not found in infant formulas, yet they are incredibly important for brain development and a host of other body processes.
In researching infant feeding, the World Health Organisation has found that babies in the developing world who receive formula milk instead of breastmilk are six times more likely to die of diseases such as diarrhoea and pneumonia. Even in the developed world, babies who do not receive breastmilk are more likely to suffer Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or develop allergies, ear infections and meningitis.
The Breastmilk Bank is managed by Penny Reimers and was made possible through funding from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). James Grant, past director of UNICEF believes that “Breastfeeding is a natural ‘safety net’ against the worst effects of poverty.” He also believes that if a child that can survive the first month in life, breastfeeding for the next four months or so will cancel out the health difference between being born into poverty and affluence.
How it works…
Breastfeeding mothers voluntarily express and donate breast milk, without compromising the supply of their own babies. The milk is frozen by the donors at the end of each day and collected by the Breasmilk Bank staff. The milk is delivered to the iThemba Lethu Breastmilk Bank where it is stored and pasteurised as needed. The milk required for each day is defrosted at the homes before being fed to the babies.
Mothers wanting to become part of the program are asked to complete a screening questionnaire, and unless concerns are raised during the questionnaire, they are given a donor number, a breast pump if they don’t have their own, and a box of breastmilk bottles. They are trained how to express and store the milk.
There are approximately 20 breastmilk donors, each providing about 250ml of breastmilk per day. Excess milk not used by the transition home is supplied to other HIV/AIDS orphanages and babies’ homes.
The Breastmilk Bank keeps records of all donations and is monitoring provision of breastmilk to assess what expressing patterns are better. Options are continually being considered such as what times of the day are better for expressing, if the supply of milk is better with those
mothers expressing once each day including weekends – or mothers who choose to express a few times during a single day, then take a break of a day or two before expressing again.
Recipients of breastmilk
The babies in the iThemba Lethu transition homes remain our first priority. This year a number of our babies benefited and thrived on the donor milk we received.
We also continue to support the Neonatal Unit at King Edward Hospital by providing additional breastmilk for the premature and sickly babies when required. The Westville Hospital Neonatal unit has continued to support us in collecting extra breastmilk from mothers who have premature babies. They have been collecting and donating breastmilk to us for over 10 years.
Milk Donation from America
In December 2011 we received an amazing shipment of donor breastmilk from America. We received approximately 154 litres of breastmilk!
We would like to thank the International Breastmilk Project for their kindness and generosity in enabling us to receive this precious donor breastmilk. All this would also be impossible if it were not for the generous gesture of Quick International for flying all this frozen Breastmilk to South Africa and Etlin for storing the frozen Breastmilk at no cost to us.
Ruanne Barnabus (right) from the United States and Louise Gallagher (left) from Ireland were kind enough to take the time to express and donate breastmilk to us, whilst visiting South Africa, without their babies. For this we are so grateful!
Local Donor Mothers
The Breastmilk Bank had 44 donor mothers in 2011 and the amount of milk collected and pasteurized was 129 litres (excluding our shipment from America). Without these incredible, dedicated mothers, none of what we do would be possible.
Sustainable Living Exhibition
In September 2011, we participated in the eThekweni Sustainable Living Exhibition. The Breastmilk bank had a stand to promote Breastmilk as a sustainable, renewable resource, which is free and creates no waste. We also focused on the importance of breastfeeding as a key preventative health measure which produces significant savings in health care costs. Thank you to the team involved in creating and setting up our stand, as well as the volunteers who helped promote breastfeeding and the breastmilk bank throughout the exhibition.
International Breastfeeding Challenge 2011
On Saturday, 1 October 2011, we took part in the International Breastfeeding Challenge. This is a fun challenge to see which geographical area in the world has the most babies “latched” on and breastfeeding at 11am local time. We used this event to provide support for breastfeeding women and provide education in a fun way. A wonderful morning was had by all involved.
We would like to say a big thank you to the following mothers who donated breastmilk during 2011:
Evay Nicole Jones
|Kasia Mc David
Nicole De la Porte
Yolande van Wambeke
New premises for the Breastmilk Bank…
The official opening and launch of the brand new Milk Bank, situated in the converted garage of the second iThema Lethu home, was held in July 2008. It is wonderful to have the space to work and it accommodates our new improved pasteuriser. This can pasteurise more bottles at a time and has a chilling function so the milk is cooled immediately after the pasteurisation process, thus preserving more nutrients.
How can you help?
If you are breastfeeding your own baby, you can become a breastmilk donor.
Please contact Penny Reimers on 031-2660567 / 0827013444 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Alternatively you can contact the iThemba Lethu admin office who will direct your enquiry on 031 261 7723 or email email@example.com
Monetary donations are gratefully accepted. (See “How to be involved”)
Human Milk Banking Association
In March 2008, the Human Milk Banking Association was constituted at the Priorities Paediatric Conference in Johannesburg. The idea being that this will protect milk banking and provide guidelines for the safe operation of milk banks around the country. We also had the opportunity to present on milk banking and the work done at iThemba Lethu at various conferences; Priorities, La Leche League National Conference, Neonatal Nurses National Conference and the International Milk Banking Conference in Milan, Italy.
An exciting connection to the breastmilk bank is the International Breastmilk Project which was started by Jill Youse in the United States of America. Jill was inspired by the iThemba Lethu breastmilk bank and saw an opportunity to make a difference. Not only has she set up a website (www.breastmilkproject.com), but she has also been very effective in highlighting the benefits of breastfeeding and also encouraging other moms in the US to get involved in this initiative – either through the donation of breastmilk or through potential fundraising activities. Three shipments of frozen breastmilk have already been sent out to iThemba Lethu for our babies.
OPRAH WINFREY mentions iThemba Lethu
Recently iThemba Lethu was given some wonderful exposure on the Oprah Winfrey show. Oprah did a feature on Jill Youse, who started the INTERNATIONAL BREASTMILK PROJECT in the U.S. Jill has collected donated breastmilk, and has sent 3 shipments to iThemba Lethu. Read more about Jill Youse on her website www.breastmilkproject.com