Saturday, August 1, 2015
"We won't have a society if we destroy the environment."--Margaret Mead
"A spiritual voice is urgently needed to underline the fact that global warming is already causing human anguish and mortality in our nation and abroad and much more will occur in the future without rapid action."
"To cherish what remains of the Earth and to foster its renewal is our only legitimate hope of survival."--Wendell Berry
Resilence, according to a dictionary is the ability to recover from or adjust easily to change. Breastfeeding is resilence. The survival of infants has depended upon exclusive breastfeeding for thousands of years. We are mammals and the mammary gland is how we as a species have survived. With the influence and rise of the infant formula industry, breastfeeding has come close to extinction. And now the Earth appears to be facing the threat of extinction because of mankind's unwillingness to protect the environment.
We are seeing more and more extreme weather conditions that threaten not only our lives but our way of living. What do we do when the power goes out for a few days? or a few months? What do we do when a massive tornado or hurricane destroys our communities? What do we do when our grocery store has no food to eat or bottled water to drink? How do we survive the extreme heat or extreme cold during extreme weather events? Is climate change happening?
I imagine most of us don't want to think about the possibility of having to live through a natural disaster or more natural disasters. In Florida, living along the coast, we think about disasters during hurricane season (June-December). I remember well the back-to-back hurricanes we had one year. I lost power to my house for 9 days in August. Florida in August is very hot and humid. Many people had their homes damaged, some severely. We had blue tarped roofs everywhere because of the damage of high winds and rain.
How does a mother bottlefeed her baby when there is no power for days, and running down to the store is not an option? What happens when roads are impassable and gasoline stations are closed? What happens when water and sewer systems break? A mother who is exclusively breastfeeding does not have to worry about how she will feed her baby. She has the milk right there, correct temperature, no bottles or nipples/teats to worry about cleaning or disposing of into the environment.
Breastfeeding is not wasteful of resources. There are no cans to dispose of, no plastic bottles or nipples to fill landfills. No leftover milk to dump into city sewers. Electricity is not needed. Breastfeeding is an elegant system of environmental balance. There would be no need for more and more dairy farms, if more women exclusively breastfed their babies. Dairy farms are a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.
In June of this year the Encyclical Laudato Si' (On Care for Our Common Home) written by Pope Francis was published. It reflects the concern regarding climate change and the need for communities to reduce the destruction of the environment. It is a powerful document that it is very well-written and one does not have to be Catholic to appreciate the depth and astuteness of the Pope's Encyclical on climate change.
In November of this year the United Nations Climate Change Conference will be held in Paris, France. There are hopes that this Conference will create a binding agreement on climate change among all nations. It is time to reflect on how "the breastfeeding mother contributes to the health of her baby and to the health of our planet." IBFAN has created a pamphlet on "Climate Change and Health." There are many pictures in this pamphlet from the Philippines and how their breastfeeding organizations utilize their mobile breastfeeding tents to support and encourage breastfeeding during disasters. There are solutions to climate change and one solution is to breastfeed. This solution needs our support and encouragement.
A Happy World Breastfeeding Week to all!
Copyright 2015 Valerie W. McClain
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
"On a macroscale, human milk is a national resource. Its loss is not only an economic burden for poorer families, but it is a waste of existing high protein baby food, time tested over millenia, and has to be replaced by other protein rich foods, usually based on cow's milk. In the developing countries this has been calculated to represent a waste of millions of dollars annually. Similar, but lesser, losses are occurring in poverty areas of industrialized countries, including the United States."
--Dr. Derrick Jelliffe's testimony to the Senate Subcommittee June 5, 1973
Forty-two years later and in the "aftermath" of a major economic recession, we still are wasting this national resource. The resource is breastfeeding. Human milk feeding carries a bigger economic and environmental cost. Food prices are skyrocketing in the USA, and food insecurity is increasing. Food insecurity is defined by the USDA as, "a measure of lack of access at times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members."
Feeding America (nation's largest hunger relief organization) has been documenting food insecurity in the USA for the past 5 years. Their stats on food insecurity among children is that the largest estimated population of food-insecure children is in Los Angeles County--nearly 600,000 children, 1 in4 live at risk of hunger. In New York City there is estimated to be more than 400,000 children at risk. Wealthy counties are not exempt from child food-insecurity. One of the wealthiest counties in the USA-Loudoun, Virginia has 10,000 food insecure children.
Florida is one of the top 10 states for child food insecurity (ranked #8) with 1,071,760 children considered food insecure. Congressional District 5 in Florida (one of the most gerrymandered districts in the country, and runs from Jacksonville in the North to Orlando in the center of the state) has one of the highest Congressional District rates of food insecure children with 58,270 children considered food insecure. It appears from maps that in general that the Southern states have the highest rates of child food insecurity. And in general the South has the lowest rates of breastfeeding initiation and duration in comparison to the rest of the country.
According to the US Conference of Mayors 2014 Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness, in a 2013 survey, 62% of all food-insecure households participated in one or more of the three largest federal food and nutrition assistance programs(SNAP, National School Lunch Program, and WIC). Which means that 38% of food-insecure households had only food banks or friends or family to help them. They estimated for the year 2013 that, "3.8 million households were unable to consistently provide adequate, nutritious food for their children."
One of the ways in which food insecure households cope with making ends meet is the purchase of inexpensive, unhealthy foods, getting assistance from friends or family, eating food past expiration dates, watering down food or drinks, selling or pawning personal property, and growing a garden. Food insecure families often have to choose between food or paying utilities, food or transportation, food or medicine/medical care, food or housing, food or higher education.
It appears that many food banks provide infant formula for families who are food insecure. And while it is important to provide infant formula for infants whose mothers can't breastfeed or don't want to breastfeed, it is not the solution to food insecurity. It is a temporary fix. Infant formula in areas of poverty creates more food insecurity. Will the food banks provide for all the infant formula a baby needs? Or will a mother be struggling every week to find enough infant formula for her baby? Even the WIC Program provides a limited amount of infant formula and mothers who need more than the prescribed allotment must pay out-of-pocket for babies that need more than is provided.
How often will infant formula feeding moms in difficult economic circumstances give their infants regular cow's milk or soy milks (since infant formula is so much more expensive than cow or soy milks)? How often will mothers water down infant formula which can cause water intoxication which can lead to death?
How do food banks regulate the distribution of infant formula? Is it handed out to whoever asks for it? Is this situation monitored so that moms who might be interested in relactation get the help they need? Are pregnant moms that show up to food pantries given breastfeeding literature and numbers of where to get breastfeeding help? I don't know what is done but many food banks state that they provide infant formula. Wouldn't it make a lot of sense to provide breastfeeding information?
Over the years I have read in the newspapers about mothers whose infants died or were hospitalized for malnutrition from starvation (some of those moms were charged with murder). In some of the cases the mother was watering down the infant formula (recently a mother was watering down her breast milk). In some of the cases the mother was giving the baby whole cow's milk. Seeing a failure to thrive infant is horrifying. But should the blame for these deaths be placed on mothers? It appears to me that our society has no clue about the importance of breastfeeding. Nor do they understand how to protect breastfeeding or how breastfeeding works. Nor does society in general, even recognize the risks of infant formula for food-insecure families.
The recommendation by the CDC is that newborn and young infants receive liquid infant formula that is sterile rather than powdered infant formula. The reason being the risk of bacterial infection-Cronobacter sakazakii.
The cost of ready-to-feed infant formula on the internet ranged from US $7.28/qt to $7.49/qt. There are 32 oz to a quart. In general the amount of infant formula per day for an infant can be calculated by infant's weight times 2 to 2 1/2 ounces. An 8 pound baby would use the quart of infant formula in approximately 1 1/2 to 2 days. So about $22-$24/week. And as the baby gains weight more and more formula is needed until the addition of solid foods.
An exclusively breastfeeding mother would only need an extra 300-500 calories (1 peanut butter sandwich is approximately 350 calories) per day of food to sustain breastfeeding. Thus the cost of feeding the formula fed infant versus the exclusively breastfed infant is dramatically different. And when you add in that exclusive breastfeeding creates a healthy immune system and that the antibody production creates a milk that protects against pathogens in the environment: bacterium, viruses, parasites and fungi. And breastmilk contains stem cells that encourage growth and repair of all cells. Thus, the exclusively breastfeeding infant is healthier than the formula fed infant, meaning health care costs are lower.
Nature has a system that protects infants and has protected infants for thousands of years. Society must endeavor to protect breastfeeding and particularly when it involves families who face food insecurity.
Copyright 2015 Valerie W. McClain
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
"You cannot insert a gene you took from a bacteria into a seed and call it life. You haven't created life, instead you have polluted it."--Vandana Shiva
"In the beginning there was breast milk," says the sweet voice of the narrator as she describes the history of breastfeeding. As I watched the 4-minute video by the WK Kellogg Foundation, I was rather taken aback by their version of the history of breastfeeding, particularly since the first sentence is, "in the beginning there was breast milk." I am fascinated by that statement and that point of view. I always imagined that in the beginning there was breastfeeding not breast milk. But maybe I am caught up in the game of who came first the chicken or the egg? As I watch the historic timeline presented by this video, I was struck by what this video considered important. The only infant formula mentioned was Nestle and their Lactogen. Why didn't they mention Mead Johnson or Abbot, more common infant formulas in the USA? Why did they mention the Innocenti Declaration but no mention of the WHO Code in their timeline. Show Nestle formula but not talk about Nestle as a violator of the WHO Code? History or hiding history? Why did the soothing voice of the narrator state, "Enough this isn't natural (regarding formula feeding), yet the visual focus is of the breastfeeding mother with the statement, "Enough this isn't natural?" Subliminal messages? Do we remember more of what we see than what we hear? Why did this timeline state that infant formula improved over the years and visually we see the #1 improved quality? Why did they state that nurseries in hospitals, the separation of mothers and babies, was because of the need to protect babies from bacteria/germs; without bringing up that infant formula companies often funded and designed hospital nurseries to increase mother-baby separation? One of the last signs to read on this history timeline is a home made poster that says, "Mother's Milk Fresh, Local, Sustainable." Kinda makes one wonder what is this video promoting? Breastfeeding? Or Breast Milk?
The video by WF Kellogg Foundation is entitled, "Growing a first food movement," appears to me to be rather slanted. It shouldn't be, should it? Afterall, thanks was provided to the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine, Best for Babes, Black Mother's Breastfeeding Association, US Breastfeeding Committee, among other organizations that should know alot about breastfeeding history. Both the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine and the US Breastfeeding Committe have been either supported or funded by the WK Kellogg Foundation.
"The foundation receives its income primarily from the WK Kellogg Foundation Trust, which was set up by WK Kellogg. In addition to its diversified portfolio, the trust continues to own substantive equity in the Kellogg company."
Celeste A. Clark who was previously employed by Kellogg as a nutritonist and later became involved in Kellogg's worldwide communications, nutrition and regulatory programs, active in the Institute of Medicine Food Forum as well as WHO Industry Group. She is on the BOD of Mead Johnson as well as the food company, Diamond. Another Board member of Mead Johnson, Anna C. Catalano is on the Global Advisory Board for the Kellogg Innovation Network.
A few years ago in a previous post to this blog, I have written about Kellogg's being considered a stakeholder in the infant formula industry.
So should we be particularly surprised that this video has a slant to it? Should we be surprised that there is no mention of the WHO Code? Should we be surprised about some of the visual points on the timeline don't match with the narrative? The surprise is that breastfeeding organizations are financially involved with this company's foundation.
Copyright 2015 Valerie W. McClain
Kellogg and the National WIC Association, business partners
National WIC Association, voting member of US Breastfeeding Committee
Companies fighting GMO labeling and monies spent on stopping labeling
Tuesday, May 12, 2015
"Cultivating and conserving diversity is no luxury in our times: it is a survival imperative."--Vandana Shiva
Breastfeeding is the sacred and timeless dance of love between a mother and her baby. It is at its basic level; a gift of food and water, warmth and safety. Mothers and babies have been dancing to this melody of love and communion for centuries. It is a dance that is truly unique and specific between a mother and her baby. A mother must surrender her own needs for the survival of her infant. In societies, like the USA, where this mother-baby dance is of little or no value, it is very difficult for a woman to sustain this kind of relationship.
The commercialization of human milk and growth of milk banking (both for-profit and non-profit) is the marketing of the antithesis of the sacred dance of breastfeeding. It is the isolation of mothering into being a producer of a product for consumption. It is about the separation of a mother and her baby and the presumption by society that the product, the milk, is equivalent to breastfeeding. Preserving the milk takes priority over preserving the breastfeeding.
But is breast-milk-feeding equivalent to breastfeeding? The loss of breastfeeding goes unrecognized. Mothers recognize the loss. But in a society that places value on things and products not relationships, the preservation of breastfeeding is not often considered of prime importance. Instead our society believes that the milk is the priority. But mothers feel the loss. How much of the postpartum depression epidemic is related to mothers feeling this loss? How much is about a society that believes that mothers should "man-up" and go back to being a "productive" member of society? How much of our rising preterm births and c-section rate in the USA are the result of pregnant women having to work up until they give birth? Our society creates an enormous economic stress on women. Instead of protecting future generations, our society seems hell-bent on destroying it.
Breastfeeding preserves diversity in a society. The milk that is produced by one mother is never identical to another mother's milk. The milk carries the genetic blueprint, the mother's DNA, as well as protective antibodies against all the pathogens and toxins in the mother's environment. The milk varies from hour to hour but from day to day, month to month. Preterm milk is very different from term milk and seems specifically geared to the premature infant. This individualization is the basis of human survival on this earth. We jettison this individualization at great risk to the survival of the human species.
Yet we now have an industry willing to create human milk-based infant formulas derived from heat-treated and pooled donor milks. The pooling and pasteurization of donor milks is similar in principle to the vast development of monocultures in agriculture. Instead of preserving breastfeeding, valued because of its diversity; our corporations and institutions are creating the need for greater and greater use of a manufactured breast milk. By destroying its uniqueness, the product, breast milk no longer has many of the genetic and biological properties that make it a life-protecting substance.
What fascinates me is that the companies that will profit from creating human milk-based formulas, believe that they have a scientific understanding of human milk. The patents describe the uniqueness of human milk and then go on to describe their various heat treatments to make their pooled donor milks"sterile" (safe for many consumers), freezing and refreezing the product, as well as extraction methods to filter out various components of the milk and then putting it all back together again only in different combinations. Depending on the product the addition of fortification is also part of this picture. Will this product create the same health benefits that are derived from a baby breastfeeding? Will all this handling create better health for infants? Isn't there a much more cost effective and simpler way to feed and protect our infants? How about preserving and protecting breastfeeding?
One of the most interesting aspects of the creation of a large network of milk banking systems is the relationship between milk banking and human milk researchers who are often funded by the infant formula industry. Over the years that I have looked at patents on human milk components, I have noted how often human milk researchers seem associated with various milk banks. And surprisingly enough it isn't just Prolacta or Medolac, the for-profit "milk banks." But in many cases human milk researchers seem very involved in the non-profit milk banks-HMBANA (Human Milk Banking Association of North America). For instance human milk researcher, David Newburg, is new board member/director of HMBANA.
He owns a variety of patents on human milk components (to be genetically engineered)and is the co-founder of a company called Glycosyn.
Products that his company are working on are oligosaccharides to be used as supplements in infant formulas. Probiotics/prebiotics for use in infant formulas. Anti-obesity agents (human milk adiponectin--patent) for use in formulas. And a diagnostic derived from a human milk component that identifies the risk of necrotizing enterocolitis in preterm infants.
He has over the years received funding from Mead Johnson and Wyeth (which became Pfizer and is now Nestle). Helped edit an article of prebiotics in infant formula for Mead Johnson
It is highly understandable why human milk researchers want to be involved with milk banks. But why do milk banks want to have human milk researchers involved with their organization? Particularly when most human milk researchers receive funding from the infant formula industry. It is also must peculiar in that HMBANA wants the FDA to regulate internet milk sharing/selling. But it sees no problem in giving access to and/or influence to their organizations to human milk researchers who have ties to the infant formula industry?
Are non- profit milk banks like HMBANA protecting breastfeeding from commercialization, protecting the genetic and biological diversity of breastfeeding? Or are they part of the problem? Where are we going as a society, when the answer to feeding infants is more about a culture of breast-milk feeding rather than breastfeeding? Where are we going when milk banks believe the same mantra as the infant formula industry that there is the need for more and more supplies of milk because "some" women can't or won't breastfed? Is that the truth or just a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Copyright 2015 Valerie W. McClain
Wednesday, May 6, 2015
"Hunger and malnutrition are man-made. They are hardwired in the design of the industrial, chemical model of agriculture." --Vandana Shiva
Yesterday morning was just like any other morning. I cruise the web, looking for news. Scanning the headlines I feel a sense of deja vu, a memory of being a pre-teen in the 60's sneaking a peak at a supermarket tabloid story in which a woman gives birth to an alien or finds out her husband is the Alien. Well, I found some news yesterday that wasn't tabloid news. But it sure had an alien feel. It was Medolac Labs launching of "the first ever direct-to-consumer offering of human donor milk." According to the article the product is, "commercially sterile, shelf-stable human donor milk, and easy-to-use as formula."
So now it will be possible for, "more babies to receive 100% human milk protein instead of bovine or soy protein formula." Should we be calling this "human donor milk" or might the correct term be "human milk-based infant formula?" Prolacta uses the term for its human milk-based infant formula and its products are registered at the FDA as Exempt Infant Formulas.
While Medolac Labs are using human milk, can we call it "donor milk?" Like Prolacta, they pay for it, at a $1/ounce. So it isn't donated. And it has to be a highly processed product in order to be shelf-stable for 3 years! The press statement says that "it is as easy to use as formula." Huh? I have never believed that infant formula is easy to use. Since this is a ready-to-feed product, the presumption is that it is quite simple. Well, let's see, even with ready-to-feed formulas, bottles and nipples have to be cleaned/sterilized. After opening, one has to know how long it can be kept in a refrigerator or whether it should be tossed after sitting out at room temperature. There is time that must be devoted to this kind of feeding as well as knowledge of how to use the product safely. There is often a time delay in bottlefeeding, babies may be hungry but mom has to prepare the bottle or at least go get the bottle. Breastfeeding, on the other hand, is quite simple in comparison (once a mother gets over the early weeks, when difficulties are the most prevalent). There are no need for bottles or pacifiers. A breastfed baby gets an immediate response for its hunger cues. There is no need for storage space for a product because a breastfeeding mother makes milk depending on infant demand (the more the baby nurses, the more milk is made). There is no need for money for a product (making a mother independent of market forces). And breastfeeding, gives the mother a number of physical gifts: less breast and ovarian cancers, child spacing, no period for months, sometimes stretching into several years. Infants receive the benefit of suckling at the breast: appropriate jaw development and with that better dental health, less airway restrictions lowering the possible SIDs risk and actual physical contact with the mother (a biological norm--why we are called mammals).
Will our society buy into human milk-based products rather than the human commitment of breastfeeding? We live in a technological money-driven world in which human commitment is into acquiring things. Our importance in this world is dependent upon the house we live in, the car we drive, the jobs we have, our degrees/titles we accumulate and the clothes we wear. Watching any TV ads or internet ads, creates the illusion that life without these things, these products isn't worth living. We are judged and found wanting, if we don't have the latest cell phone or newest techno-gadget available.
How do we collect all these worldly goods? We either have top-of-the-line jobs or we get ourselves into debt. Look at the university student who graduates into the workforce with thousands of dollars of debt for their education. Will their new job (if they get one) help them quickly pay off that debt? Or will they find themselves in ever increasing debt and servitude with the need for a place to live and a car to drive? Women get paid less than men for the same kinds of jobs. Yet women who have college/university debt have the same amount of debt as men who have educational debt. So paying off debt is far more difficult for women. How many women nowadays can afford to stay home with their babies? Between educational debt and medical debt (having a baby in the US can be a huge medical debt despite insurance), women are caught in a lose-lose situation.
There is the belief that the next best thing to breastfeeding is breast-milk feeding. It is understood that when a mom pumps and gives that to her infant that it is better than infant formula. But are human milk-based products equivalent to fresh, expressed milk? Or as they claim, equivalent to pasteurized donor milks? Do we have the research that these products that have become sterile due to industrial processing are equivalent to the donor milk that is just simply pasteurized? Obviously the product cannot be the same as the milk that is created in a woman's breast. Yet we are to believe that a sterile, 3-year shelf stable human milk is a necessity? Isn't breastfeeding the necessity?
Will this human milk industry be satisfied with just a few customers? Or will this industry have a need for more and more customers? Will this industry find more and more ways to curtail private milk sharing? Will this industry eventual sabotage breastfeeding, in its need for profits? And will the current economic and political climate that has made women second class citizens, create the need for these products?
Women feel that their self-worth is tied to being employed, to making money. Self-worth is not tied to mothering our babies. Our society has created a world in which most of us are indentured to our employers because of our accumulated debts. I am not sure how human milk-based products will play out in the years to come but I am pretty darn sure that breastfeeding will become lost in the sea of need for profits.
"The disclosure provides sterile human milk protein compositions. In one embodiment the sterile human milk protein composition is prepared by a method comprising sterile filtering skim human milk through at least two successively smaller submicron filters to obtain a human milk protein composition, lyophilizing* the human milk composition, and applying a viral inactivation step and/or sterilizing process to the lyophilized human milk composition."
--WIPO** patent application WO/2012/030764, owned by Neolac, Inc. USA, inventor: Elena Medo, entitled: HUMAN MILK PREPARATION
*lyophilized-"freeze drying, the creation of a stable preparation of a biological substance by rapid freezing and dehydration of the frozen product under high vacuum." from Medical Dictionary
**WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization)-agency of the United Nations.
Will these patented products safeguard breastfeeding or become a waste of resources in which breastfeeding is sabotaged?
Copyright 2015 Valerie W. McClain
Saturday, April 18, 2015
Breastfeeding Expert Support Team with mobile Breastfeeding Tent-Philippines from the "Final Report on Breastfeeding Action-Lifeskills 8Jan2014"
"Even in the best, most hygienic conditions, artificially-fed babies are five times more likely to suffer diarrhoeal diseases. In an emergency situation, even where bottle feeding is not normally associated with increased mortality in a non-emergency setting, infant feeding methods can become an issue of life or death. Unsanitary, crowded conditions, a lack of safe water and a lack of facilities to sterilize feeding bottles and prepare formula safely and correctly means that artificially fed infants are more than 20 times more likely to die from diarrhoea and other infectious diseases than infants who are exclusively breastfed."
"Infant feeding in emergencies: experiences from Lebanon," by Ali Maclaine
Humanitarian Exchange Magazine Issue 37 March 2007
My previous post on Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda was in my mind unfinished. Why? Because there seemed to me to be much more that needed to be shared. How do you impart through words the work of these dedicated women to protect and promote breastfeeding in the aftermath of such devastation? The Philippine Breastfeeding Expert Support Team (BEST) understood the barriers to promoting and protecting breastfeeding and created solutions through the use of their mobile breastfeeding tents. One of the barriers is that in the aftermath of an emergency, there is a deluge of infant formula donations. There is a lack of understanding that even under the best circumstances, infant formula has risks. During an emergency those risks escalate.
One of the most challenging aspects in the aftermath of a disaster is how to manage formula-fed infants knowing that these babies are at higher risk for morbidity and mortality. The Philippine BEST group used a variety of strategies to help moms relactate. Peer counselors helped educate and inspire mothers to breastfeed. Hand expression was taught, confidence was given that the milk was there. Wet nursing was used to help fed babies while they were transitioning to the mother's breasts. Donor human milk was used to help those babies who lost their mothers.
The following is 17 pictures and inspiring stories of breastfeeding mothers in the Philippines. The first slide is of Velvet Escario-Roxas, who has trained many breastfeeding peer counselors, is Executive Deputy Director at Arugaan (means "to fully nurture with a lifetime commitment," in Filipino) Toddler Center in Quezon, and was very involved in the mobile Breastfeeding Tent after the typhoon. Also in these pictures is Bing Guevara who was also very involved in mobile breastfeeding tent after Typhoon Yolanda.
The founder of Arugaan in Quezon is Ma Ines Fernandez. She is an inspiration to many. She recently was made an Ashoka Fellow and I think the following video is helpful in understanding why she is such an inspiration. Ashoka Fellows are "leading social entrepreneurs who are recognized for their innovative solutions to social problems...demonstrating unrivaled commitment to bold new ideas and prove that compassion, creativity and collaboration are tremendous forces for change."
I am inspired by this group of dedicated supporters and protectors of breastfeeding in the Philippines. Hopefully, you will be, too!! We need more programs like this around the world. In heartfelt gratitude for the many people around the world who protect and promote breastfeeding.
Valerie W. McClain
Saturday, April 4, 2015
"Breastfeeding serves to protect a child's right to food security and medicine. Temporary lack of food and water in emergency conditions in a disaster-stricken area cannot be presumed to justify the prescription of formula for babies. In such situations, the health risks to which the babies are already exposed can only be exacerbated when panic sets in and authorities unjustifiably offer formula as an emergency response."
--"Vulnerability: From Protection to Empowerment," by Leonardo D. de Castro and Ma. Ines Av. Fernandez, Asian Bioethics Review vol.6 no.4 (2014)
Recently I had the privilege of being introduced through the email to some dynamic women who by their commitment and actions are making a difference in their communities. Each of them using their different skills but recognizing the value of working together have created a blueprint for promoting and protecting breastfeeding during emergency situations. They live in the Philippines, a country consisting of 7107 islands in the area geographically known as the "Ring of Fire." The country is prone to earthquakes and typhoons. Ma. Ines Fernandez is the founder of Arugaan, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that was instrumental in making Quezon City the first mother-baby friendly city in the Philippines. She created an innovative creche program that promotes and protects breastfeeding for working women. In 1986 Ines co-authored and lobbied for the Philippine Milk Code (WHO Code--The Philippines is one of 37 countries in the world that fully implements the WHO Code).
Ines wrote a proposal that helped Arugaan receive funding from the World Health Organization to support breastfeeding in emergencies through the use of mobile breastfeeding tents. Mobile tents create a safe space for mothers and children with an opportunity to rest and recuperate from the trauma and struggles of survival after a disaster. The tents also create an opportunity to educate moms about the importance of breastfeeding, the risks of infant formula, relactation, and the importance of nutritious, indigenous foods. This education is combined with individual counseling or group counseling on breastfeeding, demonstrating positioning at the breast, breast massage to stimulate a milk supply, hand expression, wet-nursing/cross nursing. Healthy indigenous foods were provided for the moms as well as a creche for children. In her email she mentioned that the Philippines encounter 21 typhoons yearly and that they "weather the storm with smiles." This positive attitude shines forth in the pictures and papers that were shared with me regarding their work with supporting breastfeeding in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda, a category 5 typhoon that killed 6300 people and displaced 4 million people.
From Jenny Ong's blog
Such an endeavor takes the work of many people. One person, one group, one organization cannot do this kind of work alone. With the spirit of cooperation and collaboration, Arugaan BEST (Breastfeeding Emergency Support Team) lead by Ma. Ines Fernandez worked with the Breastfeeding Pinays-an online breastfeeding support group of 40,000 members administered by Velvet Escario-Roxas and her trained peer counselors and co-founder of the Facebook group Breastfeeding Pinays, Bing Guevara; LATCH (Lactation, Attachment, Training, Counseling, Help)-a breastfeeding support group with Jenny Ong who is a trained breastfeeding counselor and Dr. Lei Camiling-Alfonso,Dr. Donna Capili, Dr. Mianne Silvestre from Kalusugan ng Mag Ina (KMI) who are also promoting a program called First Embrace. Jenny Ong with her organization LATCH helped get the money needed for transportation fares for community mothers so they could volunteer at the tents. Donor breastmilk (no donor breastmilk from outside the Philippines was allowed) was collected and airlifted to evacuation centers and a hospital in areas impacted by the storm to help infants in need. Infant formula donations were discouraged because the mixing of infant formula with contaminated water can cause gastrointestinal illnesses and can be fatal.
There were many people involved in this collaborative approach and there were many agencies like UNICEF and the WHO, the Philippine government agencies (DOH and others) and international non-profit organizations like Save the Children coordinating the approach to help the survivors of the typhoon.
Mobile breastfeeding tents were used at evacuation centers in Manila. Later they were able to use their mobile Breastfeeding Tents to make visits (and return visits to see how moms and babies were doing) to the villages in Leyte/Samar hard hit by the typhoon. I was impressed by the documentation that was done by this Arugaan endeavor and that they did follow-up visits. The breastfeeding tents encouraged more breastfeeding among mothers and at the same time educated communities on the importance of breastfeeding.
One of the things I know from the hurricanes I have witnessed in Florida is that the impact of a hurricane/typhoon is felt in a community for years. Homes have to be rebuilt or repaired, jobs may be lost, food security may disappear for many families. Many close-knit families have lost their loved ones and often have to move to new locations causing additional stress. The stress of this instability and personal loss may be long-lasting for families impacted by such storms.
Breastfeeding is a well-known safety net for mothers and babies against the damaging effect of poverty and/or natural disasters. Infant formula is a known risk in such situations because the safety of water supplies are often questionable, access to fuel/electricity may not exist meaning that sterilization of bottles/nipples will be difficult putting infants at high risk for infections and death.
"Uncontrolled distribution of infant formula exacerbates the risk of diarrhoea among infants and young children in emergencies."
--"Donated breast milk substitutes and incidence of diarrhoea among infants and young children after the May 2006 earthquake in Yogyakarta and central Java," by DB Hipgrave et al., Public Health Nutr. 2012 Feb 15(2): 307-315
"According to reports from the Philippines cases of gastroenteritis increased last year during Typhoon Yolanda because donated infant formula was mixed with contaminated water."
One of the things that happens during and after natural and man-made disasters is that good-hearted people believe that donating infant formula is the answer for babies during such emergencies. What happens is that these donations often sabotage the breastfeeding mother, put more infants at risk for diarrhea and death, and are difficult to control and monitor. Not only that but once you have infants dependent on infant formula (an expensive product even in developed countries), then when all the free infant formula is no longer available, how will an infant survive? I remember years ago trying to talk to some missionaries regarding this issue. They were collecting infant formula in our area to go to the survivors of an earthquake in Nicaragua who were living in tents in a landfill. I could not convince these very kind-hearted people that it was a dangerous thing to do. They assured me that they had water-filtering devices they were bringing as well as infant formula. They did not understand that what they were creating is dependency upon a product that would not be available for free after the donations stopped. Which meant that infants would be at increased risk for malnutrition and death, when families could no longer get free infant formula. And by the time free formula ended, mothers would not have the information or help to relactate.
Hurricane Katrina was an eye-opening event for many of us here in the US. The conditions were unbelievable for a country that is considered rich and modern. I remember one night seeing the news in which it was stated that mothers with brand new babies in the New Orleans Superdome had run out of infant formula and water in which to keep their infants fed and hydrated. I saw mothers giving people their babies to other people who were lucky enough to get a bus out of the brutal conditions of the Superdome. They did this so that their infants could have food and water. Watching those news clips and saying to myself, if only those mothers had some LLL leaders, IBCLCS or WIC breastfeeding peer counselors standing next to them to say that they could breastfeed their babies and here's how to do it. Breastmilk will provide your infant with nutrition as well as keeping them hydrated. Formula feeding mothers who have newborns still have milk in their breasts. Relactation in the newborn period is much easier than relactating with an older baby (and that, too, can be done with knowledge and help).
Reading and seeing the pictures of what is being done by the breastfeeding organizations in the Philippines blows me away. Why? Because they are showing us a blueprint in how to protect and promote breastfeeding in emergencies. I dearly wish that here in the USA we can follow their example. This can be done by any country (other countries are doing it) and it is a vital and dynamic way to help mothers and babies during emergencies. The presence of such programs increases the knowledge in communities of the importance of breastfeeding. I salute and applaud the efforts of this amazing group of women in the Philippines who are promoting and protecting breastfeeding. May they stay safe as another typhoon heads their way--Typhoon Maysak.
Valerie W. McClain