Welcome to August's Carnival of Breastfeeding! This month we're bringing you posts on the World Breastfeeding Week themes "Prepared for Life" and "Breastfeeding in Emergencies." Be sure to check out the posts from other bloggers at the end of this one.
Last week World Health Organization Director Margaret Chan kicked off World Breastfeeding Week with these comments about the importance of breastfeeding in emergencies:
The life-saving role of breastfeeding during emergencies is firmly supported by evidence and guidance...In all situations, the best way of preventing malnutrition and mortality among infants and young children is to ensure that they start breastfeeding within one hour of birth, breastfeed exclusively...until six months of age and continue breastfeeding with appropriate complementary foods up to two years or beyond. Even in emergency situations, the aim should be to create and sustain an environment that encourages frequent breastfeeding for children up to at least two years of age.
Unfortunately, a widespread misconception assumes that stress or inadequate nutrition, commonly seen during emergencies, can compromise a mother’s ability to breastfeed successfully. News stories from devastated areas often include reports of mothers who have given birth and are "not producing enough breast milk". During emergencies, unsolicited or uncontrolled donations of breast-milk substitutes may undermine breastfeeding and should be avoided. Instead, the focus should be on active protection and support of breastfeeding by, for example, establishing safe “corners” for mothers and infants, one-to-one counselling and mother-to-mother support.
Why is breastfeeding so important in emergency situations? In emergencies formula is often not available, and even if it is, water supplies are often compromised. Formula mixed with contaminated water can cause diarrhea and dehydration, which can quickly become life-threatening to infants. Power to sterilize and refrigerate formula is also often not available.
Sometimes, well meaning humanitarian efforts result in such an influx of formula that efforts to protect and support breastfeeding are disrupted. This is such a concern that in 1994 the World Health Organization adopted the following policy, urging member states to "exercise extreme caution when planning, implementing, or supporting emergency relief operations, by protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding for infants," and to ensure that formula is distributed only under specific conditions.
Still, there is a lot of confusion about the role of breastfeeding in these situations. INFACT Canada has a great write up taking on myths about breastfeeding in emergencies, which I've posted below:
MYTH 1: Malnourished mothers cannot breastfeed.
In virtually all cases, a sub-optimally nourished mother can breastfeed her child. The important response is to feed the mother so that she can feed her child. It is far safe and more effective to provide nutritional support for the mother than to risk her infant's health by feeding breastmilk substiutes. Mothers in these situations need help and support to enable them to breastfeed.
MYTH 2: Stress makes a mother's milk dry up.
Although extreme stress or fear may temporarily reduce a mother's milk supply, this response is often of short duration. On the other hand, breastfeeding produces hormones that have a calming effect on mother and baby and creates an inseparable bond between the mother and her child. There is virtually no abandonment of babies in emergency situations when mother and baby are breastfeeding and kept together.
MYTH 3: Babies with diarrheal disease need water or tea.
Breastmilk contains about 90% water. Exclusive breastfeeding provides all the water, nutrition and immunology a baby needs, without the risk of contamination. Feeding an infant water can introduce disease-causing bacteria and other contaminants, especially if safe water is scarce or unavailable. It is only in the case of severe diarrhea that infants may need rehydration fluids in addition to breastmilk.
MYTH 4: Mothers cannot resume lactation once breastfeeding has stopped.
Mothers and babies can restart breastfeeding even after a period of not breastfeeding. Increased skin-to-skin contact and frequent access to the breast helps to increase milk supply and enables mothers to resume full breastfeeding. This can be critical for babies during emergencies.
Check out these bloggers posts on this month's theme:
- Hobo Mama: Breastfeeding in local and global crises
- Pure Mothers: Marketing away real milk
- Chronicles of a Nursing Mom: Tips for consistent and long-term breastfeeding success
- Zen Mommy: How breastfeeding has shaped my toddler's view of breasts
- Blacktating: Breastfeeding and living through hurricanes
- Fusion Parenting: Breastfeeding - Prepared for LIFE!
- Breastfeeding 1-2-3: Breastfeeding as a lifesaver in emergencies
- Cave Mother: The moments that made me thankful I breastfeed