Kala Ndango with her baby Jason, who was born prematurely, and nurse Ntombizandile Alam at Groote Schuur Hospital. The Mom’s Milk on the Move project, which aims to help premature babies get access to breast milk, was launched at the hospital on Friday. Picture: Tracey Adams/ANA
For the past five weeks since the premature birth of her son, Kala Ndango of Parow has been spending R40 a day on public transport to visit him at Groote Schuur Hospital so she can feed him breast milk. She also donates milk for other premature babies whose mothers don’t have enough for them.

Ndango feeds her son Jason, who was born at 27 weeks weighing only 900g. In addition, she donates about six small jars of breast milk a day.

Although she loves visiting her son, she admits the daily commute can be draining. Not only is it expensive, it’s difficult when she has to say goodbye to her baby.

“I go to hospital daily and every time I have to go without my child, I cry. It feels good to see him but it has a toll on my emotions,” said the first-time mother.

A groundbreaking project called the Mom’s Milk on the Move (MoM), which aims to increase survival rates of premature babies by facilitating access to breast milk, was launched at Groote Schuur Hospital this week.

Thanks to the initiative, Ndango and other moms with premature babies will be able to give their children breast milk without having to go to the hospital.

The project is the first of its kind in South Africa.

One in seven babies is born prematurely and 60% of those born weighing less than 1kg do not survive, mostly due to a lack of resources.

Friday was World Prematurity Day, which aims to raise awareness of premature birth and the health challenges facing these vulnerable babies.

In South Africa, mothers and babies are often discharged from hospital due to a lack of the resources needed to take care of them. Often these mothers have to to travel to the hospital daily to feed their babies for up to two months. Some mothers can’t afford to travel to the hospital every day, resulting in their milk supply diminishing and their babies not getting enough nutrition.

Ndango said the project would not only help to ensure her baby had enough milk, it would allow her to continue donating to other babies.

“If I can save lives though my donation, then I will continue doing it for as long as I can. I see the results in my own child’s growth. Giving an opportunity to another mother is priceless.”

Dr Lloyd Tooke from the division of neonatology said breast milk is the only food that gets premature babies to thrive.

“It helps prevent gut infections and decreases the chances of other infections. It also decreases the chances of allergies and has been proven to make the kids smarter at a later stage.”

He said some mothers were not able to come to the hospital every day as they had to look after other children.

“At some point, they have to go back to work, so the MoM’s project will allow them to do that while still feeding their children daily.”