Tuesday 13 April 2021
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Breast milk banking

Kind of a new concept (although not really) in society is having a facility that collects, tests and stores the breast milk of lactating mothers, to help feed mostly infants who were born prematurely or infants whose mothers are unable to produce breastmilk for whatever reason.


In the ‘olden days’ one would find a wet nurse, where a lactating mother would physically breastfeed another mother’s baby, for a myriad of reasons. Possibly the biological mother had passed on, or more commonly, maids would breastfeed their employer’s newborn.


The best nutrition for newborn infants is exclusive breastfeeding, for the first year, where that is possible.


Human milk is especially important for premature or sick babies, who are 1,000% more likely to develop devastating intestinal infections if they are fed formula instead of human milk.


Fewer than half of moms who deliver a baby prematurely are able to provide their babies with breast milk. Through donor milk, these preterm babies are still able to receive the benefits of breast milk to help them grow and thrive.


Human milk makes a huge difference in how well tiny and fragile babies do after birth because it helps to repair the intestines should they become infected. Human milk matures the intestinal tissue, fights infections, and promotes brain development while providing ideal nutrition.


Established in 2017, the Namibian Breast Milk Bank (NBMB) is a Non-Profit Organisation born out of the realisation that Namibia displays a great disparity in the provision and access to health care services. More premature infants die from infections and Necrotizing Entero Colitis in public care.


With more than 100 babies fed by the NBMB since it started operating in April 2018, the bank according to coordinator, Sr. Birgit Mayer simply does not have enough breast milk donors – an issue that remains its greatest challenge at this point.


“Although we have a few regular donors, we are in need of more mothers to contribute to the success of the bank. We need more breast milk and are truly grateful for those mothers that have supported us since the inception of the bank. NBMB has remarkably contributed to the overall wellbeing of all beneficiaries (babies), thus investing in Namibia, as they are our future leaders,” she said.



Donor human milk is provided to babies whose mothers do not have their own milk to provide. This situation can happen for a variety of reasons, a mother’s milk supply may be delayed due to circumstances of birth or pregnancy, including premature delivery.


When a mother’s milk supply does not become established enough to provide sufficient milk for her child or children (twins or triplets, for instance), or when stress interferes with milk supply, such as when the mother of a hospitalised infant is unable to hold or directly nurse her baby.


Other possibilities include when a mother requires medication that may pass through her own milk and harm her infant and when a mother has a medical condition that precludes breastfeeding, such as HIV.


Around 1 500 prematurely-born and 500 full-term babies are admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) of Windhoek’s Central Hospital yearly.


Many of these babies are HIV-exposed, with severely ill mothers who cannot produce sufficient milk to feed their baby – a situation that even healthy mothers find themselves in.


To add to the problem, many mothers have other children to take care of and therefore cannot spend the full time in hospital or afford to commute to feed their babies daily or regularly.


In principle, such breastmilk banks operate on a system similar to blood donation. Mothers who have breastmilk to spare, donate this to the bank, where it is pasteurized and stored for later distribution to needy infants.


If you are a healthy breastfeeding mother nursing an infant with a surplus of breastmilk, you are a good candidate to become a donor.


You need to be in general good health and willing to undergo blood testing for HIV and Hepatitis B.


The NBMB team is happy with the current progress, “but there is still room for improvement. We need more working space. Public response has improved since the official inauguration, more mothers came forward to donate their extra supply of milk and more people are now aware of the bank and its purpose”, Mayer concluded.

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