Better baby nutrition
Despite the documented health benefits of breastfeeding for both child and mother, global breastfeeding rates are low and breast milk substitutes lack essential bacteria, hormones and proteins. We're looking for people who could create new solutions to increase global breastfeeding rates and create better alternatives for mothers who are unable to breastfeed.
Why focus on better baby nutrition?
Breastmilk provides newborns with an essential and complex mix of nutrients, proteins, antibodies, digestive enzymes, hormones and bacteria to protect against infection and inflammation and sustain growth and development. There are numerous health benefits of breastfeeding, both for the mother and baby, including a 60% reduction of risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

WHO and UNICEF recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life, with continued breastfeeding alongside the introduction of complementary foods for up to 2 years.

Despite these advantages, worldwide rates of breastfeeding are low, particularly in high-income countries. For example, the UK (<1%), Ireland (2%), and Denmark (3%) have some of the lowest rates of breastfeeding at 12 months in the world. There are a number of reasons for this.

Breastfeeding isn't always an option for mothers and their newborns. Lactation and ability to breastfeed can be affected by the physical or emotional conditions of the mother, while some mothers might not be able to breastfeed because they have a specific disease or are under medication. Breastfeeding can also cause mastitis, over/under expression and/or sore and cracked nipples, making the process of breastfeeding or milk expression incredibly difficult. Breastfeeding/expressing milk can also be an inconvenience for mothers who want to or have to return to work.
What are the opportunities?
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.
Who are we looking for?
We think this challenge would benefit from people with backgrounds in:

  • Microbiology
  • Chemistry
  • Immunology
  • Nutrition
  • Paediatrics
  • Genetics
  • Biochemistry
  • Engineering

If you have a different STEM background, but you're keen to solve problems in this challenge area, please apply, the most interesting things happen at the interface between skill-sets!
Specific challenges
We're currently designing a number of specific challenges in this area.
Sign up if you'd like to work on this challenge area and find out more about the specific challenges!
How can we create better alternatives for mothers unable to breastfeed? Can you solve The Frontier challenge?
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