Support for Haiti

This week I received an email from the USBC (United States Breastfeeding Committee) requesting Breastmilk donations for premature and Sick Babies in Haiti. The request was a joint effort from the Human milk Banking Association of North America, International and the United states Lactation Consultant Associations, and La Leche League International. I found this to be an amazing way for mothers here to support and care for the families there. The amazing thing about breastfeeding is that breast milk is supply and demand and so pumping that little extra to help give these babies vital nutrients doesn’t take anything away from mom or her baby. But i was saddened to read today that MSNBC had reported that the leaders in disaster support in Haiti are requesting that the breast milk donations not be sent and saying that “Intentions maybe good, but supply isn’t safe or necessary.”

From what i read in the online article the leaders are saying that they don’t have a way to transport, screen and store the milk. However the first donation (500 oz) was sent over on a US military ship that is equipped with a NICU and a freezer to store the donated milk (which is donated first through milk banks who screen it). And so that donation Sits unused while mothers who cannot breast-feed and orphans are provided with formula. 

As i said the decline of such a viable resource as breast milk breaks my heart. Without the donated breast milk mothers who can not breastfeed and orphaned children are being provided with formula, this might be safe in hospitals but what about the women who don’t have clean water available to them to mix the formula? What are these babies drinking? and is it really better for them to drink the possibly contaminated formula than the donated nutritious breast milk? and What happens when disaster support groups begin to leave and these women have to go out and provide for their children on their own. Once these infants have gotten use to the formula how are these moms suppose to keep that up?

I don’t understand how these aid workers can say that the breastmilk donations are not needed and pose the idea that they could be more harmful to the babies than the formula, especially when WHO’s (World Health Organization) focus in 2009 was the importance of support and education on the importance of breastfeeding during emergencies. According to WHO

“Children, particularly the infants, are the most vulnerable in emergencies. Diarrhoea, respiratory illnesses and malnutrition encountered in emergencies significantly increase child mortality” said Dr. Samlee Plianbangchang, WHO Regional Director for South-East Asia. “During emergencies or humanitarian crisis, the ‘normal’ social, economic and health infrastructures are compromised, leaving infants vulnerable to diseases and death. Breastfeeding is a life-saving intervention particularly for the infants. And mothers need active support to continue or re-establish breastfeeding further” he added. (Emphasis added)

So given the WHO’s recommendations that breastmilk is best in emergencies why are aid workers not allowing the use of a life saving resource as donated breastmilk for use of moms unable to establish healthy breastfeeding? 

On the plus side there are two good points of the donations and the refusal of the donation usage. First moms in Haiti are being encouraged and educated first and for most to establish breastfeeding. (Yay for formula not being used to undermine breastfeeding a strong recommendation of WHO‘s 2009 push) and Two; the donated milk is being used state side for babies in need. 

Do you want to donate breast milk and help infants and newborns in need check out HMBANA site for a list of milk banks.

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2 thoughts on “Support for Haiti

  1. One thing I’ve wondered about in all this is what about the Haitian mothers who are already breastfeeding and may be seperated from their children. Since most of the breastmilk problem seems to be related to storage & support, is there any type of work being done among Haitian mothers to encourage donation or “wet-nursing” within their local communities? It seems like that would solve some of those problems, and would also help to keep up a woman’s milk if her baby was missing, but still had a possibility of being found.

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    • You are absolutely right! on all the sites i was on i didn’t see anything on that. I wonder if La Leche has gone in and tried to get that going? seems like they would be the organization to encourage wet-nursing.

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