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Your questions on breast milk donations, answered!

By Danielle van Wyk

Breastfeeding is both beautiful and natural -  or so they say. However, it could also mean rock-hard painful breasts, leaking through breast pads and spraying milk as you’re trying to get your baby to latch. Especially if you’re one of those women who have a surplus of breast milk. Understandably this may be an annoyance, but breastmilk could also save a life. Moneybags journalist, Danielle Van Wyk, chatted to the South African Breastmilk Reserve (SABR) about donating breastmilk.

Q: What is the process when donating breast milk?
According to SABR, it starts with you completing an online screening questionnaire, which is then submitted to the SABR Head Office.

“Once you are deemed viable, a nurse is sent out to assess the environment and draw blood for the necessary blood tests for HIV, hepatitis B and syphilis,” adds Deidre Smith from SABR.

If you pass the screening process, you will be sent a cooler box and bottles to express into.  This is collected once you have filled and frozen the bottles.

“The breastmilk s then quarantined while we send a sample for microbiological testing - another step in our quality assurance process. Once the milk has passed the microbiology tests, it will be pasteurised,” states SABR.

Q: How common are breast milk donations?
A: “
We currently have close to 100 donors who have signed up for 2018.  The number of active donors fluctuates throughout the year, but we do have a constant supply of donor breastmilk.  The number of donors increases year to year,” SABR notes.

Q: Who can donate?
A healthy, lactating woman who does not smoke or regularly consume alcohol or take medication. She must not have had a blood transfusion in the last 12 months or ever tested positive for HIV, TB, Hepatitis B & C or syphilis.

Q: Do those who donate get paid?

Breastmilk is considered a human tissue in South Africa, and as such is governed by the Human Tissues Act.  This means that legally donors are not allowed to be compensated.

“Breastmilk, like blood, is donated as a charitable exercise to save the lives of premature babies and not for financial gain,” adds SABR.

Q: Where can you donate?
The SABR website encourages you to contact their head office (011 482 1920) to find the nearest human milk bank. SABR has banks in the Free State, North West, Northern Cape, Eastern Cape and Limpopo. Alternatively, SABR can also direct donors to banks in the provinces where it does not have a presence.

Q: Who gets the donated breast milk?
Premature babies, born at 37 or less weeks of gestation and younger than 14 days of age.

“Without breastmilk during their first two weeks of life, these babies are vulnerable to infections and diseases due to their very immature immune systems,” SABR highlights.

Under their outpatient programme, every request is judged on a case by case basis after discussion with the Medical Advisory Board.

Q: What are 3 of the common myths about breast milk donations?
1. That breastmilk from donors with older babies is not beneficial to premature babies

2.That milk sharing is the same as using donor breastmilk. Milk sharing can be risky as reputable breastmilk banks have procedures in place to limit risk to the recipient.

3. That galactagogues (substances to increase milk supply) that are considered breastfeeding safe are also safe for donors to use.

“In fact, use of these substances puts the recipient at risk. There is risk of the pasteurisation process changing the chemical composition of the drugs. In many cases these prescribed galactagogues are atypical anti-psychotic drugs, being used "off label".  Pharmaceutical companies will never indemnify the use of their medications by breastmilk donors,” explains SABR.

Breast milk is life-saving! 

“Sometimes only 50mls are required to make a difference. Donor milk reduces the incidence of necrotising enterocolitis in low birthweight infants by around 79%, it reduces the risk of sepsis, helps seal and mature the gut and reduces hospitals stays for these tiny babies,” adds Penny Reimers from the Human Milking Bank Association of South Africa (HMBASA).

If you’ve ever breastfed, you’ll know the honour it is to be able to nourish your baby so intimately while watching them grow. Breastmilk not only offers nourishment but comfort too. Donating breastmilk allows you to share a bit of that comfort with babies who need it, and so make a difference!

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