Breastfeeding Provides Solutions on World Prematurity Day

Caption: A premature infant receives donated human breastmilk naso-gastrically.

Photo: South African Breastmilk Reserve.

“Prematurity is one of the three major causes of new-born deaths in South Africa, with diarrhoea and respiratory infections being the main causes of sickness and death in children younger than five years old1,” says Stasa Jordan, breastfeeding activist and executive director of the South African Breastmilk Reserve (SABR). “The simple act of breastfeeding can reduce infant mortality by a third and sickness by half1,” she continues.

“Whilst most new mothers do not experience difficulty in lactating, not all mothers are able to initiate lactation after premature labour, often being too ill to lactate or requiring intensive care themselves. During this time, human milk banks across the country give premature babies that are at high risk of suffering from sepsis and Necrotising Enterocolitis, access to this life-saving food when they need it most,” Explains Dr Coenie Louw, CEO of the Gateway Health Institute.

South Africa was one of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries to adopt the Campaign for Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Infant Mortality in Africa (CARMIMA). The vision of CARMIMA is to build on existing efforts to improve maternal, new-born, and child health across Africa, and to advocate increased political commitment to mobilise domestic resources in support of maternal, new-born, and child health. Launched by the African Union Commission to curb the high pregnancy-related deaths on the continent, CARMIMA set the stage for the expansion of human milk-banking services in South Africa.

“Human milk banks across the country give premature babies that are at high risk of suffering from sepsis and Necrotising Enterocolitis, access to this life-saving food when they need it most.” – Dr Coenie Louw.

South Africa pioneered the human milk-banking initiative for premature infants in 2003. Strong advocacy and the rapid expansion of the initiative over the last 14 years led to the national adoption of The Tshwane Declaration of Support for Breastfeeding in South Africa.

The promotion of breastfeeding is a top priority of the National Department of Health, and Provincial Departments of Health, who receive ongoing support from the partnership between the South African Civil Society for Women’s, Adolescent’s and Children’s Health (SACSoWACH) and its 27-member organisations working as a Coalition to advocate better health outcomes for all South Africans.

Today, South Africa provides a variety of human milk-banking initiatives, collectively supporting an estimated 5 000 infants per annum. These efforts are in line with the implementation of the Baby Friendly Health Initiative (BFHI) and Kangaroo Mother Care (KMC), intended to ensure that all public hospitals and healthcare facilities are BFHI accredited and thus promoting exclusive breastfeeding values.

“Contributions towards the upgrading of infrastructure in the public health system renew the collective commitment towards reducing the burden of death in the premature infant population,” says Jordan. On World Prematurity Day, 17 November 2017, upgrades will be completed at the human milk banks at Kimberley and Potchefstroom Hospitals, which have been operating for a decade.

Discovery donated funds towards the renovations of both facilities in support of the Feed for Life Initiative of the SABR, making a significant contribution towards the dignified and respectful care of the most vulnerable infants, which is the theme for this year’s World Prematurity Day.

Despite the significant improvement in exclusive breastfeeding rates from 8% in 2003 to 32% in 20162, approximately 11 000 babies die in their first month of life in South Africa3. “Many of these cases are preventable if symptoms are detected and treated early through the provision of human breastmilk,” says Dr Louw.

To become involved in alleviating the challenges faced by the South African Breastmilk Reserve, such as the 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:



1 World Health Organisation. 2017. Children: Reducing Mortality. [Online]. Available at

2 Stats SA. 2016. South Africa Demographic and Health Survey. [Online]. Available at

3   South Africa Maternal and Child Health Data. 2015. Countdown to 2030.



The South African Breastmilk Reserve (SABR) is a not-for-profit, human milk-banking organisation, founded in 2003. While we are primarily an altruistic human milk-banking network, we also focus on breastfeeding advocacy and promotion, to increase breastfeeding in South Africa.

Our vision is to decrease infant mortality resulting from Necrotising Enterocolitis (NEC) and mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HIV through the formation of numerous community-driven, breastmilk banks and educational programmes, to contribute to a South Africa “living with HIV/AIDS”, rather than a South Africa “dying of HIV/AIDS”.

SABR’s operations during the period 2014-15 involved 51 human milk-banking hospitals, as well as an ever-growing number of hospital facilities (currently 87) seeking assistance from the SABR Head Office. During this period, we improved the lives of 2,845 premature infants. This was a 67.8% increase compared with the previous year. In the period 2016-17, several human-milk banks have been emancipated and absorbed into parallel human-milk banking initiatives thus leading to sustainability and independent banking. The SABR is one of the key partners informing the proposed ‘Regulatory Framework for Human-Milk Banking’ of the Nations Department of Health.

The SABR is a member of the South African Civil Society for Women’s Adolescents’ and Children’s Health (SACSoWACH), a Coalition of 22 civil society organisations that work to bring health care to the needy.



The Gateway Health Institute is a multiple award-winning, South African NGO and member of SACSoWACH, focusing on health, human rights, nutrition and food security as three indivisible elements in the fight against the HIV pandemic. Gateway plays a positive role in promoting the health and rights of remote and vulnerable populations through advocacy, community empowerment, knowledge management, research and innovative technology.