Shared Nursing as an Emergency Relief Effort

What do infants and young children need in Haiti? The same thing infants and young children need in our neighborhoods:  breastfeeding.  What if their mothers are no longer available to breastfeed?  Babies need the next best thing. wet nursing or the expressed milk of another mother.

After a series of missteps from a number of well-meaning organizations, ILCA  issued a statement this week in support of shared nursing in Haiti as the earlier calls for outside milk donations subside.

What went wrong? Mothers heard the internet call for donated milk and wanted to respond.  “Tell them not to send it,” said Eric Porterfield, a spokesman for the American Red Cross. “I’m 100 percent sure we didn’t ask for that.”  News stories such as MANBC’s  “Call for breast milk donations in Haiti goes bust” and blogs such as Hoyden about Town (“For Haiti Orphans, Crooss Nursing Can Save Lives”) are beginning to sort the story.

Long-standing organizations on the ground ask for support that empowers women to nourish the youngest survivors.  Haitians are feeding their children, taking relatives and neighbors under wing, and rebuilding home.

“For Haiti Orphans Wet Nursing Can Save Lives” (ILCA)

UNICEF, WHO and PAHO recommend wet nursing, also called “cross nursing” or “shared breastfeeding,” for infants without mothers to “ensure their survival in an emergency situation.”

“Breastfeeding is the First Line of Defense in a Disaster.” (ILCA)

“Interventions to protect infants include supporting mothers to initiate and continue exclusive breastfeeding, relactation for mothers who have ceased breastfeeding, and finding wet nurses for motherless or separated babies.”

“Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding.” (WHO)

The World Health Organization recommends wet nursing or banked milk before the use of artificial milks.  This is true for everyday emergencies as well as catastrophic emergencies.

Why infant formula causes deaths due to diarrhoea (ENN)

Even when properly prepared, artificial milks lead to illness and death in third world conditions.

If you are curious — or confused — about the effects of sending commercial formula or donated human milk to Haiti during this crisis, please visit these links for a straightforward read.  There are reasons everyday practices we are used to in the United States will not work in Haiti where life, quite simply, hangs in the balance.

If you are in a position to affect the decisions of individuals or organizations responding to crisis, we hop e this information will help  We are not asking the women and children of Haiti to take up breastfeeding.  We are supporting a culturally normal  way of life and health during a time in which it is threatened.

Breastfeeding is normal and restorative.  We hope that life in Haiti will soon reach some kind of normal, that the efforts to help will be restorative for so many families trying to move forward

—  Susan

For an overview of shared nursing perspectives in the US, please click on the LLLI icon above.

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