Khanyi Nzama estimates that, for an hour a day last year, she was breastfeeding 26 babies. Every day, she expressed 260mls of breast milk into a bottle and delivered it to the local Human Milk Bank. “I went to the hospital and I saw how some of these sick babies took 10mls in two hours. So I was not only feeding my own baby, I was also helping to feed another 26 children.” Khanyi’s baby, Fezile, is now three and no longer breastfeeding so Khanyi directs her efforts at persuading other mothers to donate their milk.
Khanyi, 32, lives in Marianhill outside Durban, in a poor community. A quietly spoken mother of two, she is motivated by a desire to help others. “Most of the mothers are unemployed and live on social grants. Many are very young and are single parents. Some say they are starving and can’t feed. The kids look malnourished.” When Fezile was born, the nurses encouraged Khanyi to breastfeed. This went against tradition in her community where breastfeeding is often stigmatised because it is associated with poverty.
“In our culture,” she says, “You don’t breastfeed because you say your husband can afford formula. Or because your mother or mother-in-law wants to feed your baby other things.”
She encountered hostility when she insisted on breastfeeding Fezile after rearing her first-born on formula: “I saw how healthy and pretty my baby looked,” says Khanyi, “So I wanted to continue. But they were cross: my mother-in-law used to say: ‘This makoti (daughter-in-law) is so rude. She is not listening to me.’ My mother-in-law wanted to feed the baby tea and water and porridge. “My mother said: ‘We raised you on formula milk.’ So everybody was against me.”
But Khanyi persisted, exclusively breastfeeding her daughter for six months and then combining breastfeeding with solids until Fezile was two years and two months old. While giving birth in hospital, she had heard about the donor breast milk programme and, troubled by the suffering around her, she decided to sign up for it. “I had heard about how breast milk provided so many nutrients as well as the baby’s first immunization and I realized that I could give it not only to my own baby but also to babies whose mothers are sick. Other people come with toys but if I come with breast milk, I am giving them so much more.
“At first I could give only 130mls a day but the more you breastfeed, the more milk you produce and later I was giving 260mls a day. “I see these sick children lying there and I think: this is the future generation and we mothers can save them. “I want to encourage all mothers to breastfeed and to donate milk.”