In the aftermath of the quake in Haiti, and now a major aftershock, many are confused about the routine response of flooding a country with artificial milk in an effort to save infant lives. Karleen Gribble PhD (Adjunct Research Fellow, School of Nursing, University of Western Sydney) has lectured internationally on the importance of supporting breastfeeding in the recovery from disaster. Karleen explains in an online conversation and gives permission for us to share here:
What people who want to help need to know is to whom they should donate money. Believe it or not it is actually quite difficult for aid orgs to get funding for infant feeding projects. Organisations that I am aware of that are doing IFE work in Haiti are UNICEF, Care, Save the Children and Action Against Hunger. They have a huge job!!!!! The amount of donations of formula flooding from the US is truly staggering. I’ve never seen anything like it. If the Milk Bank can pass this info onto people contacting them this would be helpful. If people can tell orgs that they are donating because of their IFE program that’s even better.
The reality that many people find difficult to understand is that in emergencies it’s a matter of making decisions that will result in the fewest possible deaths. People think “there are babies without mothers, we must send formula”- but when conditions are very bad babies that have not had access to breastmilk have died well before any of that formula arrives. So, when the formula arrives the breastfed babies are breastfeeding, babies are being born. The formula gets distributed and then the babies that could be breastfeeding start dying. The most important way of ensuring that most babies survive is to make sure that every baby born after the emergency is exclusively breastfed. The amount of formula needed to help babies that have somehow managed to survive without breastmilk is tiny in comparison to what arrives.
Karleen Gribble, Australia
When choosing a nonprofit for donation, it’s important to let the organization know its IFE (Infant Feeding in Emergency) commitment is important to you. If you have influence with other relief efforts, you may want to emphasize the increase in infant lives saved when breastfeeding is protected. To keep up-to-date with issues involving human milk banking, visit the Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA).
For more on the controversy, you may be interested in Donations of baby formula to Haiti strike controversy, a recent blog entry to the San Francisco Gate’s “The Mommy Files.”
We welcome your own thoughts here.