There are many solutions looking to facilitate breastfeeding and make the most of a mother's breast milk by expressing, storing and reusing it. Despite existing solutions, low global breastfeeding rates suggest that there is room and incentive for better products to help mothers during this key period.
The next best thing after a mother's breast milk is deemed to be donor breast milk, from a wet-nurse or milk bank. But milk banks are not always available and the process of storing milk involves pasteurisation which removes microbiome inheritance. The growing online market for breast milk also has its limitations. Due to poor collection, storage and shipping practices, milk purchased online can be contaminated
with pathogenic bacteria. There is a significant opportunity here to improve milk processing, storage and shipping to facilitate and increase donations.
In the absence of mother or donor human milk, baby formula becomes vital. While baby formula can provide newborns with essential vitamins and minerals, it lacks significant bacteria, hormones and proteins found in breast milk.
Despite these significant limitations of baby formula, the global market is estimated at US$ 11,632.2 Mn
, with market revenue expected to increase at an annual rate of over 10.1%
during 2016-2026. This increase in revenue is attributed to a global rise in women participation in the workforce, rapidly increasing birth rates in developing countries and rising disposable income.
Replicating breast milk is complicated because it has a different composition over a single feed, as well as over the period of lactation. Breast milk has around 600 different species of bacteria and a unique type of sugar – human milk oligosaccharides (HMO), which has a positive impact on the gut microbiome and immunity. Researchers are studying different ways to obtain HMOs, including extracting them from cow milk, chemically or enzymatically synthesising them, or using microbes to produce them. The process is challenging and not yet commercially feasible. A breakthrough in this area would represent a massive improvement in the food available for babies whose mothers are not able to breastfeed them.