Banking on our Most Precious Resource for Babies

Amid the wave of activity for World Breastfeeding Week this year was the endorsement by 30 organizations (see below) of a Call to Action on a neglected area of breastfeeding support that is of particular benefit to the most vulnerable newborns: human milk banks.

Acknowledging that human milk is a precious resource with the potential to prevent more than 800,000 deaths of children under age five every year (including 500,000 newborns), the Call to Action asked governments, the United Nations, civil society and business leaders to increase investments in human milk banks as part of integrated breastfeeding, infant nutrition and newborn care programs.

Human milk banks enable mothers to donate their extra breastmilk to special facilities where it is tested, treated and distributed to vulnerable newborns who don’t have access to their own mothers’ milk. Experience in countries like Brazil, which has the world’s largest network of human milk banks, shows that integrating human milk banking into newborn care and breastfeeding promotion can contribute to significant reductions in newborn deaths and increases in breastfeeding.

The Call to Action highlights the need for national government policies supporting human milk banks, global and national guidelines for the operation of human milk banks, increased public and private sector financing of human milk banks, collection of data measuring the cost effectiveness of human milk banks, and support for innovations that improve human milk bank operation and growth.

Organizations stressed the importance of prioritizing new human milk bank investments to the populations where 70 percent of newborn deaths are currently concentrated, including India, Nigeria, Pakistan, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Angola, Kenya, Tanzania, Afghanistan, Sudan, Uganda and the Philippines.

With the upcoming launch of the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end preventable newborn and child deaths and child malnutrition by 2030 and the unprecedented levels of financing now available to improve the nutritional status of children through the Global Financing Facility (GFF), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s new nutrition strategy, the Power of Nutrition Fund, and UNITLIFE, increasing access to human milk banking is not only an imperative, but also an opportnunity.

The Call to Action for Human Milk Banks is an initiative of the Breastfeeding Innovations Team, an alliance of more than 100 organizations and individuals committed to accelerating the development and adoption of the innovations with the greatest potential to increase access to breastmilk for babies, especially in the countries where child deaths are concentrated. The Team works in support of the UN Secretary-General’s Every Woman, Every Child movement, the Every Newborn Action Plan and UNICEF’s Breastfeeding Advocacy Initiative.

To endorse the Human Milk Bank Call to Action, contact Leith Greenslade ( or Kiersten Israel-Ballard (

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