Brazil's Maternal Milk Banks Model for Globe

"For a small investment, we're getting a huge return," said Almeida. "We get better survival rates and overall health for babies that end up saving the health system money, and we get to reach out not only to mothers of premature babies, but all new mothers and teach them about breastfeeding."

Public awareness campaigns feature the stars of prime-time soap operas urging new mothers to give milk. 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.

"When I found out I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to be a donor," said Maria Tereza Aragon, a designer who donated milk for about five months after the birth of her son, Bernardo. "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," she said, during a visit to a Rio maternity ward to see her sister's newborn.

The network, with its 214 bank locations, is a rare success story in Brazil's strained public health system. It has helped set up similar programs in more than 15 Latin American and African nations, as well as in Spain and Portugal. The team visiting from the University of Michigan last week sought tips on setting up a bank at the university's hospital in Ann Arbor.

In the United States, there are around a dozen banks which generally sell milk for around $4 an ounce, roughly the cost of processing and pasteurizing donations.

"Right now in the United States, there's a lot of emphasis being placed on the promotion of breast feeding. It's overwhelming that that's the preferred method of feeding over commercial infant formulas," Hammer said.

"There's a lot of government resources, marketing, advertising and money being put into promoting breastfeeding. But taking it to the next step and using donated human milk when mom's milk isn't available is not as widely known about or accepted," she said. "Here in Brazil, there's just so much awareness."


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