Human milk banking: making a powerful investment in newborn health

Hadija Akongo breastfeeding her baby.

Kenyan mother Hadija Akongo breastfeeds her infant, Ruth. Photo: PATH/Evelyn Hockstein.

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.

Two incubators in a neonatal intensive care unit. Photo: PATH/Amy MacIver.

A neonatal intensive care unit. Photo: PATH/Amy MacIver.

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.”

Sophy speaking to breakfast audience.

Sophy Mbasa was invited to speak at PATH’s Breakfast For Global Health event, where she told an audience of PATH’s supporters about her work on newborn nutrition and human milk banking in South Africa. Photo: PATH.

Banking and distributing donated milk for at-risk babies

A technician handles small plastic bottles full of breast milk.

A human milk bank. Photo: Chelsea Milk Bank

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.

FoneAstra device and smartphone monitoring the temperature of bottles of breast milk.

A prototype of the FoneAstra device for monitoring the pasteurization temperature of breast milk using a smartphone. Photo: PATH/Steffanie Chritz.

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

Global breast feeding and human milk banking resources

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Posted in Featured posts, HIV/AIDS, Maternal and child health, Nutrition | Permalink

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