Brazil Shows How To Slash Infant Mortality Rates: With Breast Milk Banks Instead Of Formula

The nation of Brazil has reduced their infant mortality rate by more than two-thirds since 1985 -- by using breast milk! Brazil has worked hard to normalize breastfeeding and breast milk donation through public awareness campaigns. They have the largest network of breast milk donor banks in the world, and babies are benefiting.

"This is one of the most beautiful things in the world you can do," says Ligia, a Brazilian breastfeeding mother who regularly donates her milk. "It makes me feel so good to be able to donate my breast milk and know that I'm helping other women and their babies. It's just wonderful!"

Every year, a celebrity in music, film, or sports is selected as the spokesperson to bring awareness to the public of the value of donating breast milk. Brazil celebrates the "National Day of Human Milk Donation" on May 19, reports Lactation Matters. It is more than a token event lost in the noise of a myriad of other campaigns. The efforts have truly paid off, and can be measured in the infant mortality rate, which was 63.2 per 1,000 births in 1985, and has now plummeted more than two-thirds, to 19.6 per 1,000, according to NBC.

Breast Milk Banks In Brazil Save Lives

There are 214 breast milk banks in Brazil, scattered much like the Red Cross is in other countries. Similar to the way the Red Cross and other organizations save lives with blood donations, the Brazilian milk banks are saving lives with breast milk donations.

The network is a beautiful thing, reports Latina FOX News, with hospitals and public health officials working with faith-based organizations and volunteers to bring awareness, get the donations, and then provide the life-saving milk to those babies who need it most.

"Toll-free hotlines and house calls by trained technicians teach would-be donors how to pump their breast milk, sterilize glass jars and keep the milk in home freezers. Home pick-up — by motorcycle messengers in some cities, firefighters, or even police officers in others — made donating easier and more widespread."

The milk is tested, sorted, and pasteurized, and then distributed where it is needed. Much of the milk goes to NICU units in hospitals for premature and sick babies, as well as for babies whose mothers are not able to provide milk for whatever reason, including illness.

Kangaroo care is also promoted, where mothers wear their babies skin-to-skin. Donor milk may be given via tube, reports Unicef, while the baby is held close to mother's breast.

Kangaroo Care & Brazil Breast Milk Program

The campaign has resulted not only in great success in the donor breast milk program, but also in higher overall breastfeeding rates in Brazil. Now, more than half of mothers are exclusively breastfeeding their babies at six months. That number is just over 16 percent in the United States.

Science has long demonstrated that breast milk is best for babies. It is specifically made by the human body to provide complete nutrition for human babies. Formula cannot remotely compare, no matter what the Nestle and Similac ads say. There are hundreds of substances within human milk that have not even been identified by science, much less synthesized or duplicated. Mothers have been told that their breast milk has literally made the difference between life and death for some babies. Brazil's statistics back that up.

"When I found out I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to be a donor," said Maria Tereza Aragon, a mother in Brazil who donated breast milk for the first five months of her son's life. "At first, I didn't know how to do it. I was surprised at how simple it was and by how much support is provided."

"It's nice to be able to look at your baby and know that you're giving something that is going to help another baby who's just as wonderful as yours."

The breast milk donation campaign has proven to be a life-saver for babies in Brazil. This is a model that the rest of the world surely can follow, because babies matter.

[images via Silvia Izquierdo/AP, Brunei Times, and UConn]