Breastmilk Bank

The Breastmilk Bank affords breast-feeding mothers, both locally and abroad, the opportunity to donate their excess breast milk to vulnerable, abandoned and orphaned babies in the iThemba Lethu Transition Homes in Manor Gardens, Durban, KwaZulu Natal.

The willing breastfeeding donor moms are screened, and if qualify, their breast milk is pasteurized, labeled and recorded, before their milk can be given to the vulnerable babies in the transition homes.

As breast milk is the best form of nutrition for babies, the health and well-being of these little lives improves significantly. The immune benefits of breastmilk make it especially beneficial for those babies who are HIV infected.

Want to donate your breast milk? Or can you refer to a breastfeeding mom? Please complete this form:

Screening Form – November 2017

Contact details:

Joelle Gibson  on or office (Mon – Fri 7.30am – 3.30pm) 031 261 7723

Read more about the GSK/Save the Children community breastmilk bank project …

Award Winning Community Project

Learn more about the iThemba Lethu Breastmilk Bank:

The iThemba Lethu Breastmilk Bank is the first community-based human milk bank in South Africa. It was opened in 2001 by Professor Anna Coutsoudis, who had a vision to restore a destiny of hope and promise to those babies and children whose futures were at risk of being negatively impacted by HIV/AIDS.

When the first baby arrived at the iThemba Lethu Transition Home, he was very ill. Prof Coutsoudis asked a friend who was breastfeeding her own baby to express some extra milk for this baby for a few days. The improvement in this baby was so dramatic that the dream to open a breastmilk bank began. Prof. Coutsoudis then approached UNICEF for funding to set up the breastmilk bank. Breastmilk is the gold standard for infant nutrition and is especially beneficial for HIV-infected babies and those whose health has been compromised in other ways.

The orphaned and abandoned babies in our care at our two Transition Homes receive donor breastmilk. Where possible, we also provide breastmilk to babies in neonatal ICU’s at private and public hospitals.

The Breastmilk Bank affords breast-feeding mothers, both locally and abroad, the opportunity to donate their excess breastmilk. We truly believe that EVERY DROP COUNTS and that by donating breastmilk you can save a baby’s life!


Why use donor breastmilk?

Breastmilk provides optimum nutrition for babies – there is no substitute that can provide all the nutrients and immune properties that breastmilk does. Babies who are cared for at Ithemba Lethu deserve the very best. Many of these babies are malnourished and immune compromised when they are received into our care, so breastmilk provides them with everything they need to thrive. Breastmilk helps to reduce infections by strengthening these babies’ immune systems.

The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months, the introduction of complementary foods at six months and continued breastfeeding for two years and beyond. Extensive research has shown that infants who are not breastfed have a much higher risk of developing respiratory infections, diarrhoeal disease, allergies and asthma. The risk of ear infections has also been shown to be four times greater in the first year of life in babies who are formula fed. Breastmilk contains the perfect nutrients for a baby’s brain to grow to its maximum potential and babies who were breastfed scored higher on intelligence tests. Breastmilk provides babies with optimal nutrition.

How do you know the breastmilk is safe?

The iThemba Lethu Breastmilk Bank is affiliated with the Human Milk Banking Association of South Africa (HMBASA) and therefore follows strict screening, pasteurization and microbiological testing guidelines in order to ensure that our donor breastmilk is safe for the infants we serve. All our donor mothers are first screened before their milk is accepted, in order to ensure that they do not carry any risks. The donor breastmilk is safe to use as it has been pasteurized using the Holder Pasteurization method, an internationally recognised method for treating donor milk. This is a monitored method that has been developed specifically to kill off any virus or bacteria that may be in the milk. At the same time it helps to preserve the important components of the breastmilk

How do I become a donor mum?

Any mother who is breast feeding her own infant under the age of 18 months and has extra milk to share can contact us for screening. We appreciate any amount of breastmilk that you can donate – honestly “Every drop counts”
Screening criteria include:
· Pass a lifestyle screening questionnaire
· Be in good general health
· Provide blood test results
· Abstain from smoking, illegal drugs and alcohol
· Have direct access to a fridge and freezer

How much milk do I have to donate?

There is no minimum amount of milk that is required. We are grateful for any extra milk you can provide.

Once I become a donor mum, how do I store the milk?

Once the screening process is complete, we provide sterile bottles in which to store the milk. The mothers freeze their milk and once all the bottles are filled, we arrange to collect the frozen milk from them. It is very important that the mothers express and store their milk using good hygiene practices.

How much breast milk does iThemba Lethu need monthly?

Every month, the volume of milk that we need varies. This is because the number of babies 6 months and under at the home will change frequently. On average a baby between the ages of 1 – 6 months will consume approximately 800mls in a day. We therefore have to collect as much as possible and build up our stores.

Reference Gallery

– Anna Coutsoudis in the Huffington Post
– Jill Youse’s story in
– Jade Ribiero’s story
– Unicef – Quincy Jones visits iThemba Lethu


  • Case studies:

  • Baby SLThis little girl was born premature on 6 December 2013 and abandoned at the hospital. Born at an estimated 32 to 34 weeks and exposed to HIV, her birth weight was a mere 1.55kg. When she was placed in our care at iThemba Lethu on 18 February 2014, she was tiny and slept a lot. From that very first day she was fed breastmilk. Although at the time she was well behind reaching her milestones, she fed easily, slept well and gained weight. At 5 months old she started smiling and responding with baby talk! From then on she caught up quickly and by 6 and-a-half months old was sitting. Baby SL remained healthy throughout her time with us and when she was adopted into a loving family on 27 August 2014, she weighed +- 6.5kgs. Liz, Baby SL’s house-mum, fondly remembers her as a friendly, sociable baby – as equally happy to be around people as playing on her own.Shane MacDougall – Baby Riley’s story“Riley was born on 16 July 2014 at King Edward Hospital in Durban. He weighed 1.24 kg at birth. He was an emergency cesarean as my wife, Liane, had extreme placenta prevea accreta and had to be rushed into surgery as she was hemorrhaging severely. He was born at 29 weeks. Mom and baby recovered pretty quickly from the ordeal and once stabilized were transferred to Addington Hospital. Due to the stress Liane was under due to various factors Riley had to go onto formula as Liane didn’t have any milk coming out. Riley was doing well for about 4 days and then had a bad turn. He developed a condition called NEC – Necrotising enterocolitis, a condition that occurs primarily in premature babies, where portions of the bowel undergo tissue death (necrosis). Riley then had to be rushed back to King Edward Hospital as they were better equipped to handle such a severe case. After 5 days of intense treatment he was fighting fit and mom`s milk was starting to flow, albeit very slowly. We were extremely worried about our precious baby boy as we knew the only thing that would help was breast milk, due to his sensitive tummy.When mom and baby were stable again they were transferred back to Addington Hospital, albeit under a cloud. This is when dad jumped in. I googled everyone possible who could perhaps help us with donor milk. After I thought I had come to a dead end I found a lady by called Kirsten from the iThemba Lethu Breastmilk Bank who was willing to help. She sprang into action immediately and an hour later we had received our first batch of donor milk. Since then baby and mom have been thriving and doing so well. At what would have been 33 weeks in utero, Riley’s weight was 1.35kg.
    Riley is doing remarkably well and now, at 8 weeks old, weighs 2.8kg – a far cry from his birth weight of 1.24kg. A big Thank-you to Kirsten and her team for all the assistance you provided us.”

    Shane, Liane & Riley MacDougall

  • Statistics:

  • In 2013 we had 55 donor mothers from Durban who donated 325 litres. We also received donor milk from as far afield as the USA (304 litres) and UK (100 litres).In 2013 we had 10 iThemba Lethu babies between the ages newborn to 6 months fed on donor breast milk. We were also able to help provide milk to neighbouring private and public hospitals. A number of the premature babies experiencing feed intolerance and gut problems – who were on formula – showed remarkable recovery once on donor breastmilk.
  • Useful breastmilk references:


How You Can Help


You can help the fundraising for the HIV Prevention Programme, Family Integration Programme and Breastmilk Bank.

Volunteer Work

Are you interested in becoming a volunteer? We welcome both part-time and full-time volunteers to help at the transition home.


Your time is a priceless investment. Whether its skills you bring, or just yourself, the impact you can make is all the difference.

Our Needs

Help us with our current needs for consumables, equipment and DIY around the homes, schools and community

Become a partner

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