Sunday, November 1, 2020

Local students develop app to help babies in need of breast milk


What began as a kind gesture for mothers who are struggling with breastfeeding has now resulted in a long and lasting relationship between the University of Cape Town and Milk Matters.The collaboration has now managed to promote research that has led to the development of an app to increase access for mothers struggling in this area.

Dr Melissa Densmore, Senior lecturer in the university’s Information and Communications Technologies for Development (ICT4D) decided to share her excess breast milk with babies in need. This inspired her post-graduate students to develop an app to support babies in need of breast milk.

Donated breast milk is often given to premature babies, who are particularly vulnerable to fatal complications if they are not fed breast milk. In 2016 Chelsea-Joy Wardle and Mitchell Green were the first of Dr Densmore’s students to focus on Milk Matters for their honours research projects. This included designing an app that helped facilitate donations and communication.

Under Densmore’s supervision, Wardle took an inclusive approach, known as co-design, to develop the app. This approach sees the user community involved and consulted at every stage of the development process. The app provides donor mothers with a tool to track their donations and an estimate of how many babies their milk will feed.

It also provides the donor mothers with useful breastfeeding information, details about Milk Matters depots and a simple tool to self-assess their ability to meet certain essential requirements of donating breast milk. They can also contact Milk Matters through the app for further information.

Conducting their research and interviews during the pandemic presented a few challenges, which included depending on the technology that wasn’t always reliable, connection issues, problems with microphones and finding interview times that suited everyone. On the other hand, Densmore and her students are also contributing to community building. They assisted at the annual Milk Matters fun run, volunteering at the non-profit and helping collect donor milk from depots.

Milk Matters Chief Executive, Jenny Wright applauded the students and Densmore for the impact that their work and research have on the many vulnerable babies and families that Milk Matters serves.

She also thanked UCT for helping to raise awareness about the importance of donor breast milk among groups of people who might otherwise not have heard about it. This has included posters and a presentation at UCT’s annual Open Day, as well as the academic and mainstream articles that have been published.

“It takes a community to make it possible for a milk bank like ours to operate and feed babies, and we are delighted to have UCT, these students and Dr Melissa Densmore as part of our community, sharing our goal of saving premature babies’ lives and supporting breastfeeding in general,” said Wright.

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