Celebrating midwives and breastfeeding
SABR celebrates midwives and their positive role in encouraging breastfeeding.

The South African Breastmilk Reserve (SABR) honours midwives for the critical role they play in facilitating a healthy start to life for babies and a positive birth experience for mothers this International Day of the Midwife, celebrated globally on Tuesday, 05 May 2015.

The word ‘midwife’ literally means ‘with women’. As childbirth specialists, midwives support and care for women during pregnancy, birth and the early weeks thereafter. They provide medical care by monitoring labour progress and facilitating a safe birth, but also emotional support in one of the most significant time frames in a new mother’s life.

This support does not stop once a baby is born, and a woman’s midwife is often her first port of call for guidance on caring for her new baby.

“The South African Breastmilk Reserve wishes to recognise all midwives for their efforts to encourage new mothers to breastfeed their babies for at least six months. With only 7.2% of South African women breastfeeding exclusively at six months, midwives play an important role in developing a breastfeeding nation,” said Stasha Jordan, breastfeeding activist and executive director of the SABR.

“Midwifery must be one of the most rewarding and satisfying professions. I see how women are empowered and grow in strength through their birth experiences,” said Heather Pieterse, midwife and owner of Midwives Exclusive in Pretoria.

“The way the birth and the first hour after birth are managed play a big role in the success of breastfeeding. In the first golden hour we ensure uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact between the mother and baby, allowing the baby to crawl to the nipple and latch onto the breast. Early breastfeeding contributes to the lining of the gut, which plays a crucial role in long-term intestinal health. Breastmilk is baby’s first immunisation, providing protection against various infections, allergies, auto-immune diseases and other conditions like obesity and diabetes later in life. Breastfeeding truly is the biggest gift that a mother can give her baby.”

As a midwife, Pieterse has to answer many questions from new mothers who may be concerned about breastfeeding. “It is important that mothers get support when they start breastfeeding, as most challenges can be overcome if managed correctly from the start. The most common concern that mothers have is that they won’t produce enough breastmilk to feed their babies. I tell them that your body makes milk on demand so feeding your baby whenever they are hungry will ensure adequate supply.”

All midwives, registered with the South African Nursing Council have completed a four year training course through a Nursing College or a University. Their work does not keep regular hours, as babies can be born at any time of the day or night. “You’re on call 24-7 as a midwife in private practice. Your phone is always on in case a mother goes into labour,” says Pieterse.

SABR encourages mothers to breastfeed their babies and donate breastmilk. “The donated milk is given to premature babies in neonatal intensive care units who are not strong enough to breastfeed, but are in urgent need of the blend of nutrients breastmilk contains,” said Jordan.

Midwives Exclusive supports the SABR by running one of many donation ‘corners’ at their practice in Pretoria. Pieterse says, “Donated breastmilk is literally saving babies’ lives. As midwives we have the perfect opportunity to discuss breastmilk donation with mothers who are breastfeeding their own babies. They can sign up as donors at our practice and we supply them with special storage bottles from the SABR. We have received as much as 20 litres of breastmilk in a month, but this varies depending on how many mothers are actively donating breastmilk at one time.”

Although breastmilk can be frozen for up to three months, the SABR encourages mothers to donate milk within two weeks of expressing in order to ensure the best nutritional quality. SABR are responsible for pasteurising the donated breastmilk which is then redistributed to premature babies at hospitals across the country.

To get involved and alleviate the challenges faced by the SABR, including low breastfeeding rates in South Africa, sourcing donor mothers, and funding for the operation of the milk-banks, please visit www.sabr.org.za or call 011 482 1920 or e-mail: info@sabr.org.za.

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