Viet Nam expands the opportunities for small and sick babies to access safe donor human milk amid the pandemic

May 18 2021
A mother with confirmed COVID-19 was supported to breastfeed her baby one day after birth, using pasteurized donor human milk after she underwent a C-section at Quang Ninh Obstetrics and Pediatrics Hospital, a Center of Excellence for Breastfeeding. Photo: Quang Ninh

On the eve of World Day of Human Milk Donation, Viet Nam reached an important milestone: four years after the country’s first human milk bank (HMB) was established, Viet Nam adopted national guidelines for HMB and the HMB service network. In the absence of global guidelines, the newly adopted Decision 2394 comes after four years of documentation of experiences and international best practices. Alive & Thrive as well as HMB staff were part of the drafting committee, participating in several rounds of consultation workshop by Ministry of Health. During this year’s World Breastfeeding Week, celebrated annually in the first week of August, the Viet Nam’s Ministry of Health will organize a workshop to disseminate the guidance to hospitals across the country. 


In Viet Nam, three functional HMBs and two satellite HMBs have been established, with one HMB in development. The facilities receive nearly 10,000 liters of milk from 400 donating mothers every year, providing safe, pasteurized, nourishing donor human milk for 15,000 newborns; donor human milk can save lives and provide better nutrition and protection from illness, especially for small, sick, and vulnerable infants. Only hospitals designated as a Center of Excellence for Breastfeeding are eligible to establish HMBs. 

 HMBs in COVID-19 hotbed provinces, operating with strict social distancing measures, have played an important role for mothers with COVID-19. At first, donating mothers had concerns over health staff visiting their homes to collect milk; the pandemic made it harder to find new donating mothers, and milk donation reduced by 10% during the pandemic’s peak. However, with clear communication that the benefits of breastmilk outweighed any potential COVID-19 transmission risks, the number of new donors and the volume of milk donation soared as restrictions lifted.  

Viet Nam was the only country in Southeast Asia to explicitly include pasteurized donor human milk as an alternative for newborns of mothers confirmed with COVID-19 in its national guidelines. Five mothers with confirmed COVID-19 who gave birth in hospitals with HMBs were able to have skin-to-skin contact and directly breastfeed their babies after the babies were given pasteurized donor human milk while the mother was ill.  

In line with the message of this year's World Day of Human Milk Donation, "The pandemic brought changes, your donation brings hope," Viet Nam’s new guideline encourages and acknowledges mothers, donors, and HMB staff who bring opportunity and hope to vulnerable infants through breastmilk donation.  

Other related resources:  


  1. Tran HT, Nguyen TT, Giang HT, Huynh LT, Barnett D, Mathisen R, Murray JCS. Factors Associated with the Use of Pasteurized Donor Milk for Healthy Newborns: Experience from the First Human Milk Bank in Vietnam. Nutrients 2021;13(4). doi: 10.3390/nu13041151. 

  1. Tran HT, Nguyen TT, Barnett D, Weaver G, Nguyen OT, Ngo QV, Le HT, Huynh LT, Do CT, Mathisen R. Trends and Dynamics in the First Four Years of Operation of the First Human Milk Bank in Vietnam. Nutrients 2021;13(4). doi: 10.3390/nu13041107. 

  1. Mansen K, Nguyen TT, Nguyen NQ, Do CT, Tran HT, Nguyen NT, Mathisen R, Nguyen VD, Ngo YTK, Israel-Ballard K. Strengthening Newborn Nutrition Through Establishment of the First Human Milk Bank in Vietnam. J Hum Lact 2021;37(1):76-86. doi: 10.1177/0890334420948448. 

  1. Tran HT, Nguyen TT, Mathisen R. The use of human donor milk. Bmj 2020;371:m4243. doi: 10.1136/bmj.m4243 

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