Brazil's Inventive Solution To Save Newborns: Breast Milk Banks

Every year, one million babies die on the day they are born. Brazil is on the fast track to ending this trend with one simple solution: breast milk.
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Every year, one million babies die on the day they are born.

One million.

For many, the gravity of that number can be hard to grasp. To put that figure into more relatable terms, one million miles would allow you to travel to the moon and back. Twice.

Brazil is on the fast track to ending this trend with one simple solution: breast milk. The benefits of breastfeeding are recognized the world over, with studies showing that exclusively breastfed children are 14 times less likely to die in the first six months than non-breastfed children. Yet, in low-income countries, only 39 percent of children under six months are exclusively breastfed.

Since 1985, Brazil has worked continuously to normalize breastfeeding through its national public awareness campaigns and breast milk donation programs. Brazil's "National Day of Human Milk Donation," a campaign hosted by Brazil's Human Milk Bank, stresses the importance of breast milk for newborns' health. After testing, sorting and pasteurizing, donated milk is often used for infants whose mothers are sick or unable to breastfeed and in hospital neonatal intensive care units, where breast milk can be fed through a tube. With over 150,000 donors, over 155,000 recipients and 214 bank locations, Brazil has created the largest network of breast milk donors in the world.

Not only has the campaign helped to increase the amount of donated breast milk, but it has also spread awareness of the importance of proper breastfeeding. The Brazilian Health Ministry now estimates that more than 50 percent of Brazilian mothers exclusively breastfeed for the child's first month of life, a figure nearly 35 percent higher than the breastfeeding rate in the United States. The results are tangible. Since the campaign's inception in 1985, Brazil's infant mortality rate has plummeted by more than two-thirds, from 63.2 deaths per 1,000 births to 19.6 deaths per 1,000 births.

"Brazil is really the world leader in milk bank development." - Dr. Lisa Hammer, University of Michigan pediatrician

Prior to 1985, breast milk was bought and sold, incentivizing impoverished Brazilian mothers to sell excess amounts of breast milk, often to the point at which they were unable to provide for their own infants. Thanks in part to Brazilian chemist and brains behind the Brazilian Milk Bank Network, João Aprígio Guerrade Almeida, Brazil's breast milk donation campaign, now serves as a model for the rest of the world. Instead of purchasing high-end pasteurizing machines costing $25,000, Almeida uses $1,500 Brazilian-made machines used in food-testing laboratories. Instead of using imported beakers that amounted to nearly 89 percent of previous operating costs, the network uses sterilized jars originally made to hold mayonnaise or instant coffee.

"We found ways of adapting the system to the reality of a developing country without compromising the quality and safety of the milk." - João Aprígio Guerrade Almeida

With the target date for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) rapidly approaching, the world must prioritize proper breastfeeding in order to, like Brazil, reach MDG 4 and reduce the infant mortality rate by two-thirds. Already duplicated in more than 15 Latin American and African countries, as well as Spain and Portugal, Brazil's Milk Bank Network may be the simple and sustainable life-saving solution the world has been waiting for.

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This blog post is part of a series produced by HuffPost Global Motherhood in partnership with MDG456Live in recognition of this week's events surrounding the Millennium Development Goals. To see all other posts in the series, click here. For more highlights from MDG Week, click here.

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