This week (1 – 8 March) is National Milk Banking Week in South Africa.
The Paarl Breastmilk Bank started operating at the end of August 2012, so is just over 6 months old. What a learning curve! It’s felt very rewarding being the volunteer coordinator, working with dedicated and supportive doctors and nursing staff .
Babies below 900g have little chance without human milk for immune protection and organ growth. Paarl mothers have kept 25 babies supplied with donor milk for varying periods during the past 6 months. Most times it’s a matter of providing a top up for a mother who is struggling to bring in her own supply, a few mls per feed. Almost all mothers can provide all the milk their babies need if breastfeeding (or expressing) is managed well from birth, but mothers of Very Low Birth Weight (VLBW) prematures will miss out on several weeks of breast development when their pregnancy ends early, and may need extra time to get going. Of course sometimes mothers give birth early because they themselves are ill, and that also means a delay in breast milk production.
Our current treasure is a minute but perfect little girl, and I’ll call her Angelina. Angelina lies in her incubator all alone, but someone has given her a pink teddy to keep her company. The pink teddy does not comfort her when she cries. The main thing going for Angelina is her fighting spirit – and that she was started on donor milk from birth.
She has grown to 1490g, (still less than half the weight of my own babies at birth!) and is now drinking four times as much milk as comes into our milk bank each week. In two weeks, she will have finished every drop we have, but we must keep a good reserve in case we get some really small sick babies, and so the doctors are reluctantly talking about putting Angelina on formula in a week’s time.
What’s the big deal? Well, premature babies have no immune system yet and need the germ-fighting cells of breast milk to fight off even ordinary bacteria that the rest of us shrug off. There are no immune factors in formula, plus formula causes inflammation in a premature gut, which may lead to a horrifying disease called NEC (necrotising enterocolitis – a kind of rotting of the intestines).
For this reason, formula is almost never used in our premature unit – except in the past for orphans and adoptive babies.
I am fairly sure that someone reading this will know of a breastfeeding mother in Paarl or the surrounding areas who is willing to become another donor for Angelina. Donors complete a lifestyle questionnaire regarding medications, alcohol and tobacco use, undertake a blood test and are shown how to collect and store milk for a sick baby. They are provided with sterile sealed jars for their donations, but a freezer stash in the donor’s own jars would also be welcome (I guarantee to get their bottles back to them).
If you need further information, or are willing to donate right now, please email firstname.lastname@example.org with your phone number, and I’ll contact you.
Thank you, from the Paarl team, and from Angelina