After a catastrophe, when everyone needs food and safety, breast-feeding is the best way to feed children. For this reason CARE has specific guidelines for the distribution of infant formula donations. Everyone in the community needs to know how to safeguard babies.
In any disaster, when the water becomes contaminated, powdered formula can’t be mixed properly and it’s hard to clean bottles and nipples. (A cup is easier to clean). Unclean water makes a child more vulnerable to disease. The sad fact is, after a natural disaster, the most common causes of death for babies are diarrhea and pneumonia. That can be prevented.
During emergencies, it’s best to help mothers keep breastfeeding, even to nurse other women’s babies when needed. Human breast milk is clean, safe, easily digestible, wholesome nutrition supplying crucial immune factors.
Can mothers nurse under stress? Yes, they can. It may initially be difficult for her milk to let down. Holding a baby skin-to-skin calms and stabilizes both baby and mother, then we build from that. If she hasn’t nursed for a while, she can build her supply again. If she has a newborn, she only needs to start nursing and the milk will be there. Knowing this, we can protect breastfeeding and help babies receive excellent, healing nutrition and comfort.
The comfort and warmth from a mother (or father’s) body also reduces stress. Being held, a baby burns less calories, breaths better, has a calmer heart rate. You see how it makes sense that a Chinese policewoman began nursing a baby she found in the rubble of an earthquake. Or why Selma Hayek nursed a hungry orphan.
Mothers (and fathers) ache to comfort a crying baby. It’s good to know that nursing one’s own or another woman’s child is safer than using formula with questionable water sources. It’s a low tech, effective, very humane something we can do. The care a breastfeeding mother receives means a baby is fed and a family begins to stabilize. That is an efficient use of emergency relief dollars. It’s also a warm light in the midst of dark chaos.
Bumi Sehat is an organization that supports mothers and babies every day. They have been providing care for mothers and babies after the tsunamis in Bali and typhoons in the Phillipines.