Brazil’s Human Milk Banks Cut Baby Death Rates by 73%

Breastfeeding motherBEACON TRANSCRIPTOf the 290 human milk banks worldwide, Brazil owns 220, and the country’s efforts to help mothers breastfeed their young from the first months of life have paid off. According to a recent report, the country’s network of human milk banks lowered the infant mortality rates by 73 percent between 1998 and 2015.

The study which was recently published in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet revealed that if nearly every mother breastfed her child, the lives of 823,000 children under the age of 5 would be saved every year.

Experts explained that the simple act of breastfeeding shields babies form a plethora of preventable conditions. A very recent study conducted by UNICEF showed that babies who do not receive their mother’s milk within the first hour of their lives have a 40 percent higher risk of death than their breastfed peers. In children that are not breastfed within the first 24 hours, that risk jumps to 80 percent.

However, regardless of the studies and positive reviews for the practice just 35 percent of women globally feed their infants only with their milk during the first half year of life, a recommendation issued by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The rest of the moms usually cite inability to produce milk, social stigma, and work-related issues. Authors of the Lancet study add a lack of education, formula advertising, and other issues to the list.

However, Brazil managed to also educate mothers on the benefits of breastfeeding their newborns, which also considerably lowered child mortality rates. Education efforts enabled the country devise the world’s largest network of human milk banks.

Those banks store human milk from mothers willing to donate it. The milk is pasteurized before being given to babies. Milk banks serve orphans and children born prematurely or are malnourished or below the normal weight.

Donors can call the milk bank which sends workers to their homes with special cooling containers to preserve milk. Nevertheless, opening similar banks in the developing world is extremely challenging because of lack of education and HIV risk. In Brazil, the donated milk is always pasteurized to kill off pathogens.

The country opened its first human milk bank in 1998, and since then about 2 million children benefited from donated milk. In the meantime, breastfeeding rates in the first six months of life also jumped Brazil from 2 percent in 1986 to 39 percent in 2006 due to the milk banks and other breastfeeding programs.

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