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Breastfeeding: Know about the incredible benefits for mom and baby?

Press release -

Breastfeeding: Know about the incredible benefits for mom and baby?

Breast milk – the perfect meal for your baby

“Breastmilk comes in excellent packaging, it’s available on-demand, always fresh, the perfect concentration for a growing baby’s needs, at the right temperature and overall is packed with amazing, nutritious and protective elements for baby,” says Dr Noluthando Nematswerani, Head of the Centre for Clinical Excellence at Discovery Health, in celebration of World Breastfeeding Week (01 to 07 August 2022) and Women’s Month.

“For baby, the benefits of breastfeeding include a lowered risk of infections such as diarrhoea, ear infections, pneumonia, and of childhood obesity, sudden infant death, and hospitalisation. Mom’s antibodies are passed on to the baby to offer protection during the very vulnerable, first few months of life, while baby is developing its own immune system.”

Midwife, internationally certified lactation specialist, and CEO of Belly Babies(online antenatal class), Sister Hannah Visagie adds: “Colostrum is the first form of breastmilk that a mother makes after giving birth. Colostrum is nutrient-rich and high in antibodies and antioxidants. It contains immunoglobin A, which seals the baby’s gut, protecting it from viruses and bacteria. Colostrum changes to mature breast milk supply within three to five days after birth.”

“Breast milk is also very easily digested by baby ensuring their access to all of its benefits. This is important, especially in the early stages when the baby’s digestive tract is still getting going.”

And, breastfeeding has a host of benefits for mom!

Often mothers are surprised to find out just how much breastfeeding can benefit them. “Breastfeeding helps with weight loss after giving birth, stimulates the uterus to contract and return to its normal size, lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and more,” says Dr Nematswerani.

“When it comes to the cost of feeding a baby, breastfeeding is free,” says Visagie. “And, really importantly, it enhances bonding between the mom and baby, especially when done skin-to-skin.”

It really concerns me that our country is reported to have one of the lowest breastfeeding rates on the African continent.”

The significant health-promoting features of breastmilk and breastfeeding’s long list of benefits for both mother and child are well documented.

“The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that children are breastfed exclusively (feeding the baby breastmilk only, no other liquids or solids are given – not even water) for the first six months of life,” says Dr Nematswerani. “Also, that breastfeeding continues along with appropriate complementary foods up to 24 months of age or further. It really concerns me that our country is reported to have one of the lowest breastfeeding rates on the African continent.”

It is reported that in 2016 only 31.6% of children were exclusively breastfed; with a very brief, average, exclusive breastfeeding duration of 2.9 months. Overall, only 19% of children continued to be breastfed between the ages of 12 and 23 months.

What’s affecting breastfeeding rates in SA?

“The low breastfeeding rates in our country have been attributed in part to the early years of the HIV pandemic where it was recommended that HIV-positive mothers not breastfeed at all,” says Dr Nematswerani. “They were provided with infant formula as part of prevention of mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) elements of HIV programs. This may have had unintended, deterrent effects on HIV-negative women as well. Limited knowledge of the benefits of breastfeeding add to these dynamics and so too do a lack of breastfeeding support from loved ones, and in the workplace.”

These aren’t uniquely South African dynamics.

According to UNICEF, in 2020, globally just 48% of infants were breastfed within one hour of their birth. Other reports indicate that only 40% of those less than six months old are exclusively breastfed.

Also, often moms aren’t well educated on the ins and outs of breastfeeding

Visagie points out that breastfeeding education as well as the proper support for breastfeeding mothers is vital for a successful breastfeeding relationship and journey. For example, many moms think they have low milk supply.

“They expect breasts that are full and gushing with milk from the beginning. That’s not how it works. They’ll see the little bit of yellow, watery substance - colostrum - produced when baby is born and incorrectly think their milk supply is weak or insufficient. A baby’s stomach capacity is only around 6ml at birth, which means that all they need is a teaspoon full of colostrum to satisfy them,” she says. “Fuller breastmilk supply comes in a few days later and adapts as baby grows.”

“This confusion may mean formula is introduced as an intervention. However, that worsens the situation as it reinforces the mother’s doubt about her milk supply and ability to breastfeed, and also lowers the demand for breastmilk which means the mom’s supply will decrease too.”

“Educating moms is crucial. If the right habits are formed at the beginning of breastfeeding, the chances of success and longer-term feeding are much higher.”

“Mothers also need the right support from the healthcare professionals, partners, family, and their workplace. If moms face challenges to breastfeeding, it is really key to get support from a professional, such as a lactation consultant.”

SA Breastmilk Reserve saves lives of thousands of premature babies

Head of South African Breastmilk Reserve (SABR), Staša Jordan, explains why breastmilk is so important for premature infants in particular.

  • SABR is a non-profit organisation that was founded to provide breastmilk to vulnerable babies. Since 2015, the Discovery Fund has joined forces with the South African Breastmilk Reserve, a partner that has been deliberate in its efforts to build a sustainable and replicable model for human milk banking designed to keep new-borns alive.

“Breastmilk is the perfect food for premature babies. It aids in preventing necrotising enterocolitis and strengthens the immunes system. Premature babies are at risk of developmental delays and breastmilk offers them lasting cognitive and developmental benefits,” she says.

Often, mothers who have an excess of expressed breast milk donate it to the SABR. The milk then goes through a series of processes to ensure its safety before being sent to public and private hospitals that treat premature babies.

“In 2022, the SABR is supporting 85 neonatal intensive care units countrywide. The SABR has helped save 35,231 premature babies between 2003 and March 2022,” says Jordan.

Working mom Kanya, donates excess breastmilk for vulnerable babies

Earlier in 2022, chartered accountant, Kanya Jack, donated 495 units (150 – 200ml each) of excess breast milk to the SABR, feeding 37 vulnerable babies for a whole week.

Jack, who is back at work after four months of maternity leave, expresses her breast milk while at work so that her baby can be exclusively fed breast milk, with a bottle by his nanny, while she’s at work. Her son breastfeeds directly when she’s home. She continues to donate any extra expressed milk to the SABR.

Jack says it’s the support system she has around her that has allowed her to continue breastfeeding her son though she’s back at work.

“I’m lucky that I don’t share an office with anyone, so I can lock the door and pump milk when I need to,” she says. “I also set an alarm to express milk during the night. Having a nanny and a husband who helps to look after the baby plays a huge role in keeping up my milk supply. When you’re stressed, your milk supply drops. I plan to breastfeed my son for as long as possible.”

  • For more information about the South African Breastmilk Reserve or on how to donate breastmilk, visit www.sabr.org.za or phone 011 482 1920

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Discovery information

About Discovery Ltd

Discovery Limited is a South African-founded financial services organisation that operates in the healthcare, life insurance, short-term insurance, savings and investment, and wellness markets. Since inception in 1992, Discovery has been guided by a clear core purpose – to make people healthier and to enhance and protect their lives. This has manifested in its globally recognised Vitality Shared-value Insurance model, active in over 35 markets with over 20 million members. The model is exported and scaled through the Global Vitality Network, an alliance of some of the largest insurers across key markets, including Asia-Pacific, Europe, North America and South America.

In 2021, Vitality Health International (VHI) introduced shared-value health insurance to employer groups operating in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zambia, as well as Travel for Treatment service to the rest of Africa.

Discovery trades on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange as DSY. Discovery Group is the holding company of Vitality Group in the USA and of Vitality UK.


Press contacts

Nthabiseng Chapeshamano

Nthabiseng Chapeshamano

Press contact Senior Reputation Manager Healthcare, Long & Short Term Insurance, and Sustainability
Karishma Jivan

Karishma Jivan

Press contact Reputation Consultant Healthcare & Sustainability