Remember that “urgent call for breastmilk donations to Haiti’s babies” that was flying around the internet earlier this week?
Not so fast. Aid organizations on the ground in Haiti, including UNICEF
and the Red Cross, are still not accepting any human milk donations.
I got an e-mail from at least half a dozen moms this week asking for breastmilk donations, saying aid organizations in Haiti were ready to receive them on the USS Comfort off of Haiti’s coast. The milk was desperately needed, they said. I was surprised, since UNICEF had been firm on this point two days earlier: they were not accepting milk.
They still aren’t, and have asked the Human Milk Bank Association of North America to retract their call for donations.
While donations of breastmilk are well-intentioned, the aid workers on the ground say they are neither safe nor necessary. They are working with moms to help them continue or reestablish lactation with their babies. The few babies who can’t be breastfed have ample access to breastmilk alternatives, says UNICEF.
Over 500 ounces of human breastmilk were delivered to the USS Comfort, a Navy aid ship with a neonatal intensive care unit on board. The ship has ample freezer space to store the milk, but aid workers say they haven’t used any of the donated milk.
The U.S. Office For Disaster Assistance says that concerns about transportation, screening, handling and storage make donated milk unsafe to use in the current conditions that exist in Haiti. The American Red Cross,
Doctors Without Borders and World Vision have all said there was never a need for donated milk.
They also do not need or want donations of infant formula. Babies being formula-fed are at much higher risk for opportunistic infection than those being breastfed. UNICEF has said they want to keep track of any infants receiving formula so they can provide additional medical monitoring for those infants. The organization also considers it unsafe to use bottles at all right now, due to the lack of clean water, and wants to train anyone giving a baby supplemental food on the use of a cup and spoon feeding technique.
If you have milk to donate, you should absolutely contact your local milk bank. There are plenty of babies closer to home who can benefit from your generous donation. If you want to help the babies in Haiti, send money.
Photo: Daniel Lobos