The Unsung Heroines of World Prematurity Day

By Carey Haupt RD(SA) SACLC
Created: 14 November, 2019

There is an amazing community of women who support other mothers in times of need. This community doesn’t get any recognition and never gets to meet the moms and babies that they help. They donate their time and breast milk with no fanfare or loud cheer. They donate their breastmilk to breast milk banks because they know how important breast milk is in saving lives. They understand that not all moms are able to breastfeed from day one and they step in to help in the special love of motherhood. They help so that the mother who is not able to currently breastfeed has time to collect herself and slowly build up her supply while knowing that her baby is being cared for. These women don’t know who their milk helps, often it is more than one family.

It is in their kindness that they show understanding of the difficulties of being a mother of a premature baby, which is often unbelievably stressful. Firstly, the early arrival of her baby is never how a mother would like to have her baby born. Instead of going home with her child, they must leave their child in NICU. The emotional strain of not being able to hold your baby and seeing her attached to machines that beep and make scary noises is massive. The uncertainty of what is happening around you and learning how the NICU works. The medical complication of the mother or baby can cause added stress that can be a real barrier to the mother’s breastfeeding efforts. This is where the donated breast milk is so important. The donated breast milk bridges the gap of the premature baby’s needs and mother’s breast milk supply.

The medical staff in the NICU know the lifesaving benefits of breastmilk. Breast milk is easier for the premature baby’s gut to digest and absorb. Breast milk helps to prevent NEC which is basically when parts of the baby’s intestine start to die off. This results in massive complications and possible surgery that will have lifelong repercussions. Hence the medical staff will encourage a mom to express her own milk. If she does not have enough breastmilk for her baby’s needs, they can then use donated breast milk.

How do you join this community of amazing women that save lives and give hope to premature babies and their families?

If you are a breastfeeding mom and would like to donate breast milk you need to contact the South African Breast Milk Reserve (click here). You will be asked a few questions to check if you are eligible to donate breast milk. This is similar to when you donate blood. You might not be eligible to become a donor due to some illnesses or a medication that you might take. This is all to help protect the little life that will benefit from the donated milk. Once you are accepted as a donor, your milk will be collected and processed. This is where the milk is tested for bacteria or viruses and it is also pasteurized. Once a premature baby is identified for donor milk, the SABR will be notified and they will send the milk to the NICU so that it can be given to the baby.

On world prematurity day, we always acknowledge the parents, medical staff and the little preemies themselves. It is also important to take a step back and recognize the effort, time, care and love of the women who donate breast milk. They are also an integral part of the NICU story to many moms that just need that extra support in the first few days.

So, a heartfelt THANK-YOU to all the moms that have been breast milk donors, you are an amazing community of women.

If you have donated or received milk please let us know your story.