Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Breastfeeding in Emergencies

PHD in Parenting has been ahead of me, but because I have a few things to add to the theme of breastfeeding in emergencies, I won't let her post put me off my contribution to World Breastfeeding Week.

Working for an international development organisation, even if my own work is firmly focussed on the UK, there is a lot of information going around on the importance of breastfeeding in emergencies. Particularly because this is a children's charity and our big current campaign is the Child Survival Campaign. In emergencies, all the benefits of breastfeeding and the risks of artificial feeding are very pronounced. Lack of proper sanitation and sterilisation equipment means that breastfeeding, even if the mother is exhausted, is the best option, one that will literally save infant lives. 1.4 million a year to be precise. That's the toll that formula feeding takes in the developing world.

In developing countries, infants 0-6 months old who are not breastfed are 14 times more likely to die, and at the age 6 months - 2 years, they are still 4 times more likely to die than children who are breastfed. 22% of neonatal deaths could be prevented by breastfeeding, reducing the total child mortality of pre 5s by 12%. The breastfeeding pattern in developing countries is that while extended breastfeeding is common, exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months is not (39%). At the same time, as developing countries become more wealthy, breastfeeding rates show a tendency to fall significantly (e.g. in Vietnam, exclusive breastfeeding rates fell from 82% to 31% in just 11 years between 1996 and 2007).

So, what are the solutions?
The developing and developped world are united in needing appropriate 1-1 support for breastfeeding mothers, which takes into account cultural, social and economic aspects affecting the mother. This translates to investments in health services. Marketing of formular milk needs to be controlled so that it is truthful. Finally, action to support breastfeeding in emergency situations, because infant mortality is particularly high in these situations and breastfeeding is vital to child survival in emergency situations.

Here are some links for further reading:

World Breastfeeding Week action on breastfeeding in emergencies

A Generation On: Baby milk marketing still putting children's lives at risk (Save the Children Media Briefing)

Save the Children on the Child Survival Campaign which includes action to support breastfeeding

Coming up: my own experience of breastfeeding, and because I had a rough ride it'll be long...


Metropolitan Mum said...

Despite my intial struggle, I am still hanging in there. Or little L is, depending on the perspective. This is certainly thanks to my fabulous doula, who encouraged me endlessly. And a fab GP, who helped me make the breaks a little longer in between feeds and gave me this much needed rest. As you said, it's all down to the support we get.

Cave Mother said...

And further to the health problems in the third world caused by formula feeding, there is the resulting lack of natural child spacing. Women who don't nurse become fertile more quickly and have their next child sooner. More children to feed, no more food. Not good. Actually I was going to write a full post on this soon anyway.

cartside said...

Met Mum - How did you increase the breaks between feeds? I'd love to know - I never managed to do that myself. In fact, they got progressively shorter...

Cave Mother,
Thanks for the addition, a very valid point.



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