August 1-7, 2014 is World Breastfeeding Week. This post’s author, Kiersten Israel-Ballard, MPH, PhD, leads PATH’s work on human milk banking.
Breast milk is the natural first food for newborns; it provides all the energy and nutrients that the infant needs for the first months of life. One of the best things mothers can do for their newborn’s health is to initiate breastfeeding in the first hour of life, and maintain exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life.
But what about babies who are orphaned? Or who are isolated in neonatal intensive care units? Or whose mothers are too ill to breastfeed? Or who face other challenges in accessing breast milk?
“When I see children dying of malnutrition or HIV and I know that an intervention like breastfeeding can increase their chances of survival,” says PATH’s Sophy Mbasa, who works on the issue in South Africa, “it really pushes me to do more.”
Banking and distributing donated milk for at-risk babies
Human milk banks, which rely on donated mothers’ milk, play an important part in ensuring that safe, pasteurized breast milk is available to babies whose mothers are unable to provide it. The banks are even more crucial for vulnerable babies—those who are premature, underweight at birth, severely malnourished, or orphaned. These babies are at high risk of illness and death.
However, scaling up this lifesaving intervention has been difficult in some poor countries—the very places where HIV, malnutrition, and other challenges lead to the highest numbers of at-risk infants.
PATH has become a global leader on this issue: partnering with milk banking organizations and experts around the world, developing guidance documents, and working to scale up innovative technologies that simplify milk bank processes to make them more low cost, efficient and effective.
In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, we’re sharing a roundup of resources and stories to help accelerate the scale-up of human milk banks globally. Because we like to think of human milk banks as the most powerful kind of investment bank—investing in a a healthy start at life for all newborns.
PATH resources on human milk banking
- Strengthening Human Milk Banking: A Global Implementation Framework
- Six briefs on strengthening human milk banking
- FoneAstra Milk Pasteurization Monitor: Building Capacity of Small-Scale Human Milk Banks
- Safety Management System for Human Milk Banks
- Providing infants with the best start in life
- Sophy Mabasa: a passionate advocate for the power of breast milk