The Mom’s Own Milk on the Move (MoM) Project is celebrating its first anniversary on 16 November ‒ the eve of World Prematurity Day.
The first-of-its-kind initiative in South Africa has been providing the invaluable service of delivering mothers’ breast milk to their newborn and premature babies at Groote Schuur Hospital, from drop-off points at clinics in Hanover Park, Gugulethu and Mitchells Plain. The project assists mothers who are unable visit the hospital on a daily basis.
Over the past year, the MoM Project, which runs in collaboration with Newborns Trust, Relate Trust and CONSOL Glass, has been committed to giving premature babies the best possible start in life, through its motorbike-propelled breastmilk delivery service. The MoM Project’s work has highlighted the significant benefits of breastfeeding and breast milk, but it remains increasingly concerned by South Africa’s dire breastfeeding statistics and the implications this has for preemie babies.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF recommend that mothers worldwide “exclusively breastfeed infants for the first six months to achieve optimal growth, development and health”. Exclusive breastfeeding rates globally are 38%, in Sub-Saharan Africa 31% and in South Africa a mere 8% ‒ the lowest in the world. The Sustainable Development Goals target is to increase exclusive breastfeeding globally to 50% by 2025.
Dr Natasha Rhoda, senior Neonatologist at Groote Schuur Hospital and co-founding trustee of Newborns Trust said, “It’s a societal duty to educate and inform young mothers on the importance of feeding with breast milk where possible, as many mothers remain uninformed of the difference that breast milk makes. What’s needed in this country is a footprint within communities that helps explain, educate and create awareness. This is something that we at MoM Project are committed to achieving, but it’s going to take time for the message to filter through.”
According to WHO, breast milk is the best source of nutrition for newborn babies, protecting against disease and infection ‒ particularly for little ones born prematurely. The vital proteins in breast milk are wholly natural and much more easily digested than baby formula alternatives, while the calcium and iron that comes straight from mom is much more easily absorbed by baby.
Tragically, many babies don’t have the strength to live long beyond preterm birth and those who do sometimes suffer long-term effects later in life. However, the MoM Project has demonstrated, directly through their community-based work, that an increase in the usage of breast milk has a direct correlation with a decrease in the number of premature babies dying from serious conditions, such as necrotising enterocolitis. Breast milk reduces the occurrence of necrotising enterocolitis, which sees bacteria kill part of the baby’s bowel and can be fatal.
“As a result of this project, and its drive to educate moms on the importance of breastfeeding their babies, we’re seeing an increase in the number of young mothers who breastfeed or are willing to donate their breast milk to other preemie babies,” continued Dr Rhoda.
The service has also involved breast milk donors ‒ moms with a supply to spare beyond the needs of their own newborns ‒ who have provided vital assistance to moms unable to produce enough breast milk themselves.
Relate Bracelets quickly recognised the value of the MoM Project and accordingly sponsored a motorbike and a special attached compartment to carry the CONSOL glass milk containers, to keep the breast milk at the correct temperature while helping to ensure that precious delivery targets were met.
Neil Robinson, CEO of Relate Bracelets, is proud of the success of the MoM Project and the valuable work it is doing.
“The values of Relate are aligned closely with those of Newborns Trust and the MoM Project. Premature babies are forced to begin life fighting from the most weakened and vulnerable position and it’s important that we as a society lend our strength and cooperation to ensure that these young lives are nurtured and preserved.
“This project embodies the teachings of Ubuntu ‒ ‘I am because we are’ ‒ and we must do all we can to educate and inform society about the importance of giving breast milk where possible to offer preemie babies the best start in life,” Robinson added.
Since its launch last year, the MoM Project has provided assistance and education to over 100 new mothers, with an additional 55 who have expressed interest in using the service.