Searching for #Breastfeeding Mothers in #Haiti

Jan. 15, 2010; edited Jan. 19 to include new information. — Bettina Forbes, CLC

We spoke to the head of the Human Milk Banking Association and learned that the situation in Haiti for orphaned babies is especially grim due to the catastrophic earthquake that struck this week.

Pauline Sakamoto, RN, MS and President of the Human Milk Banking Association of North America and Amanda Nickerson, Executive Director of the International Breast Milk Project have been in touch with the orphanages in devastated Haiti.  Sakamoto said,  “people from the orphanage are walking through the rubble and literally picking up orphaned babies off the street.”

Haiti has high breastfeeding rates, so these babies are equipped from birth to fight off disease and infection, but without mothers to feed them, orphaned babies are at risk for starvation.   Although disaster relief organizations are working furiously to get supplies such as food and clean water to Haiti, they are hampered by destroyed roads, airports and complete chaos.  *Update 1/19/10: A further complication is that because these babies are  mostly breastfed, they are not so keen on infant formula, and are not taking too well to efforts to feed them, according to Ms. Sakamoto.  Hopefully this situation is improving, we will update you when we can.

Sakamoto is urging relief organizations to especially focus on finding any surviving breastfeeding mothers, and to make them a priority for receiving food, water and shelter so that they can begin tandem nursing orphaned babies. Breastfeeding is the best bet right now because it is supremely nourishing, adjusts to changes in temperature or infant health, is comforting, and it protects the babies against further disease.   During any natural disaster, the excruciating challenge of transporting infant formula, supplying clean water and sterilizing bottles underscores the value of breastfeeding during emergencies.   To top it off, formula is not always tolerated, and the continuous use of formula is associated with a life-long risk of increased disease.  Of course is if breastmilk or breastfeeding mothers is not available, formula should be used but it should be only be procured and administered under World Health Organization guidelines. (see below)

*Update 1/19/10:  The International Breastmilk Project has posted that:

“Everyone involved is working around the clock to make sure we are ready to go once our on the ground partners have the infrastructure in place to handle donor milk. We will update our website and twitter details [@GiveMilk] as they unfold . . . The Human Milk Bank Association of North America is processing the milk that will be sent to Haiti. We are currently referring all donors to, or 1-866-998-4550, so that we can build up the supply in the United States so that when we are ready to send milk to Haiti, there will be an adequate amount of milk to meet the needs.”

Please keep checking back with the International Breastmilk Project (or @GiveMilk) for the latest.

These two posts have done an excellent job explaining the importance of breastfeeding in Haiti and the complexities of breastfeeding in emergencies; we urge you to read them and to circulate and educate those you know:

Breastfeeding 1-2-3 by Angela White:  Haiti Disaster Relief Organizations

Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog:  World Health Organization says Breastfeeding a Priority in Haiti

*Update 1/19/10: New Post by Motherwear Breastfeeding Blog:  Breastmilk Donations for Haiti, and a Shortage of Donor Milk in the U.S.

What can you do?

Use your contacts with relief organizations to educate about breastfeeding in emergencies.  Many of these wonderful organizations are not aware that human milk banks exist; many do not know of the risks of infant formula nor of the danger of marketing infant formula donations in emergencies.

*Update 1/19/10:  Many well-intentioned organizations & companies have announced that they are collecting infant formula.   We ask that all of these organizations please 1) ensure that there is a verified need for infant formula.    There may be enough on hand and it would be disastrous to breastfeeding rates to flood the country with excess infant formula.   2) Administration of infant formula should be carried out under control of qualified health experts so as to not undermine breastfeeding.   3) Formula donations should not be publicized so as to not violate the World Health Organization International Code of the Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (WHO Code).   This code protects breastfeeding mothers and babies; publicizing donations of infant formula provides a PR and image boost to companies that violate the WHO Code and have worked to erode breastfeeding rates.  Please see the IBFAN statement .

Donate to Best for Babes to raise awareness of human milk banks, and to break down the barriers to breastfeeding success so that more mothers can breastfeed long enough to donate!!   So many mothers are being prevented from succeeding with breastfeeding, which makes it difficult to keep milk banks stocked.

Donate funds and/or breast milk to your closest Human Milk Bank or the International Milk Banking Project.  These relatively new organizations need our support.   With adequate funds and stores of milk, they can collaborate with the American Red Cross and other disaster relief organizations to deliver human milk where it is most needed.   Our vision is that some day human milk banks will be as plentiful as blood banks, they are just as vital!

We will keep you posted of anything we learn, and thank you for your support.

4 thoughts on “Searching for #Breastfeeding Mothers in #Haiti

  1. I’ve just spent the day trying to find out the info you just provided. Thanks to Beatnik Momma for tweeting this post to me so I can tweet it too. I emailed IBMP and the person I emailed didn’t give me any information on this which really surprises me, since you have info above. Hm. I would think they’d want to get that message out to people who are concerned. ANyway, I’m glad you got it anyway. Many thanks for this important post. I wrote a post about the importance of breastfeeding in Haiti (and in any place experiencing a natural disaster) too.


  2. The Human Milk Bank Association of North America has issued a statement on Haiti:

    The Human Milk Banking Association of North American (HMBANA) is saddened by the disastrous earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010. Our thoughts and prayers reach out to this country that now has lost so much.

    Many areas have no water, electricity, housing or health care facilities. Recognizing the life saving importance of breastfeeding of infants and young children in this situation, we speak in support of protection and support of Haitian breastfeeding women. Humanitarian efforts must continue to support the health of the mothers and their ability to breast feed in order to protect that of the young children.

    To help survivors of the Haitian earthquake please donate money to the following agencies:…”


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