International Lactation Consultant Association® (ILCA®) has just achieved another important milestone in signing its 17th National—Regional Partner agreement with Milk Matters milk bank, based in Cape Town, South Africa. Click here to learn more about the ILCA Partner Initiative and the 16 other Partners.
Milk Matters is a community-based human milk bank that pasteurizes and distributes donations of screened milk from healthy donors to premature, ill, and vulnerable babies whose own mothers cannot supply human milk to meet their baby’s needs. Milk Matters also facilitates the setting up of milk banks in health institutions.
ILCA is thrilled with the prospect of what lies ahead for this collaboration and the shared impact we may have on breastfeeding in South Africa. We asked Louise Goosen, Milk Banking Consultant, to share some of her insights into the organization and why this agreement is so meaningful.
Lactation Matters (LM): Tell us about why Milk Matters is so important to human health in South Africa.
Louise Goosen (LG): According to the jointly published UNICEF and World Health Organization (WHO) Low Birth Weight Country, Regional, and Global Estimates, the low birth weight (LBW) rate is 15.4% in South Africa. In the Western Cape, where Milk Matters is most active, it is rated even higher at 19.8%. Immaturity-related disorders, such as extreme prematurity, Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC), intraventricular bleeds, and hyaline membrane disease accounts for 67% of neonatal deaths among this group of babies weighing less than 2500 g.
Milk Matters’ vision to help decrease the high infant mortality rate is two-fold. Firstly, we focus on educating and encouraging moms to express and breastfeed their own babies. Secondly, we provide donor breast milk to babies whose moms are too ill, absent, or, for other reasons, unable to provide their own babies with breast milk.
As stated in the Lancet series on breastfeeding, breast-milk-fed infants are six to ten times less likely to develop NEC when compared to formula-fed infants. By providing donor milk to the most vulnerable, Milk Matters has a direct influence on decreasing the rate of mortality and morbidity due to NEC in LBW babies. Due to limited supplies, our recipient babies need to weigh less than 1500 g, and requests require a repeat motivation prescription every two weeks while the baby is getting donor milk.
We have managed to increase our donor base and secure funding for an additional pasteurizer to help us keep up with our ever-increasing processing needs. Like so many other nonprofit organizations (NPOs), Milk Matters finds funding and reimbursing its staff members appropriately to be an ongoing challenge. However, looking at how we have grown and increased our capacity and influence on promoting exclusive breast milk feeding and skilled lactation care over the last 12 years, we remain optimistic about the road ahead.
Milk Matters has been an active participant in the development of national and provincial infant health guidelines that aim to reduce young child and infant mortality and morbidity rates by means of the promotion of breastfeeding and milk banking.
LM: What challenges do you face in your work?
LG: A major focus of our work is to continue to grow our donor base. This becomes an even bigger challenge considering that we have one of the highest HIV rates in the world as well as a mere 8% six month exclusive breastfeeding rate. In addition, the spillover effect of previous HIV national guidelines that recommended formula feeding, and even included free formula for HIV+ mothers, has been tremendous. Finding loopholes in and poor understanding of the South African Code of Marketing for breast milk substitutes aggravates this tendency. Reversing this belief that formula feeding is safer remains a challenge. However, South African ILCA members, UNICEF representatives, and others are combining their efforts to counteract this trend.
LM: Why did your organization decide to become an ILCA National—Regional Partner?
LG: As Milk Matters role players who are lactation consultants and, of course, ILCA members, we find ourselves in an excellent position to positively influence the mothers, healthcare staff, and policy makers with whom we meet and interact. Besides being delighted that our organization and the work we do is deemed relevant by ILCA, we believe that becoming an ILCA National—Regional Partner will enhance our standing and influence and further enable us to promote and support breastfeeding and breast milk feeding in South Africa.
LM: What is your vision for breastfeeding support in South Africa?
LG: Our vision includes educating healthcare professionals and parents about the invaluable role lactation consultants have as specialist professionals. Additionally, we assist, support, and teach skilled lactation care at every possible opportunity. Our longer-term vision is to educate peer counselors and community health supporters with the goal of dramatically increasing South Africa’s exclusive breastfeeding rates. In doing so, we would decrease the burden of infant and young child mortality and morbidity, as well as other pertinent lifestyle diseases, on our heavily overloaded health system. We would consequently increase our donor base, decrease the demand for donor breast milk, and be able to make donor milk available to previously excluded infants and young children. We believe that, given the opportunity, breastfeeding and skilled lactation care can indeed transform health in South Africa.
Louise Goosen is a registered nurse (RN), midwife, International Board of Certified Lactation Consultant® (IBCLC®) and has a PG diploma in health education. She is a founder member of the SA Kangaroo Mother Care Foundation a well as the breast milk bank Milk Matters. Keeping updated with best practice and sharing information on breastfeeding, skin-to-skin care, and milk banking is her passion. She counts herself as really fortunate to have the opportunity to share information with a variety of health science students as well as parents. By so doing, she strives to facilitate positive breastfeeding experiences for mothers and their babies. Louise is convinced that too many mothers stop breastfeeding unnecessarily because of misinformation and a lack of support.
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