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UNICEF Settles Breast vs. Bottle Debate For Haiti Donations

By Sierra Black |

303404356_6ff7a23b4b_mUNICEF has weighed in on the breastmilk vs. formula debate going on in the blogosphere about how best to help Haitian babies.

The answer: do not send breastmilk or formula. Send money.

UNICEF is handling the food aid efforts in the quake-ravaged nation, so their opinion is the one that counts.They are not taking donations of human milk at this time, and are strongly discouraging outside donations of infant formula.

Their message is clear: breast is best. “Artificial feeding in an emergency carries high risks of malnutrition, illness and death and is a last resort only when other safer options have first been fully explored,” they say.

Citing the immunological benefits of breastmilk in protecting infants from disease, they say it is of vital importance to keep babies caught up in the disaster nursing.

They identify three groups of infants in Haiti who may need help:

  • Infants who were already being breastfed before the quake, and are still with their mothers
  • Infants who were being ‘mixed-fed’ some breastmilk and some formula before the quake
  • Infants who were entirely bottle-fed or who do not have access to a lactating woman in the aftermath of the quake (this group presumably includes the many new orphans the quake has left behind)

UNICEF’s goal is to keep the breastfed babies nursing full-time by giving their mothers priority access to water, food and shelter. They say the idea that women can’t produce milk under stressful conditions is a popular myth, and that most women are able to continue feeding their babies just fine.

For babies who had been “mixed-fed”, UNICEF is working to help mothers reestablish lactation or revert to exclusive breastfeeding. They stress that with the lack of access to clean water and the prevalence of infection, breastmilk is the best choice for infant feeding. They are training aid workers to help women establish and continue breastfeeding.

Finally, they are urgently working to identify infants less than six months of age who are not breastfed at all. Their priority for feeding these infants is to reestablish a nursing relationship with the mother. Where that’s not possible, they are training those caring for these infants to feed them with a cup and spoon. Sanitary conditions make the use of bottles problematic. They are using only ready-to-use formula due to the lack of clean water.

Their statement stressed the importance of allowing UNICEF’s trained personnel to distribute any infant formula, to ensure that it reaches only those infants who cannot be breastfed, and that all formula fed infants have medical monitoring due to their increased risk of infection.

While UNICEF is not accepting human milk donations, other places are. If you want to donate milk, you can donate through the Human Milk Banking Association of North America. They’re working with UNICEF in the event that importing donated milk becomes a good idea. In the meantime, there are plenty of other babies who can use that milk, and milk supplies in US milk banks are already low.

Photo: Topinambour

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About Sierra Black

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Sierra Black

Sierra Black lives, writes and raises her kids in the Boston area. She loves irreverence, hates housework and wants to be a writer and mom when she grows up. Read bio and latest posts → Read Sierra's latest posts →

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6 thoughts on “UNICEF Settles Breast vs. Bottle Debate For Haiti Donations

  1. Bettina at Bestforbabes says:

    Bravo on getting this information out to moms and organizations that want to help in Haiti. The urge to help is instinctual and wonderful, and it takes leadership to direct those good intentions. THANK YOU!
    Bettina Forbes, President & Co-Founder, Best for Babes Foundation

  2. Mistress_Scorpio says:

    Awesome.

  3. Va Mommy says:

    Im glad that UNICEF said something. People need to quit bitching about wether or not breast milk is better than formula and just HELP these poor people and send money like UNICEF said.

  4. Kim Lee says:

    Comments this is an excellent and common sense article! UNICEF knows what they are doing and everyone who can should send money to help. Obviously there may be situations where formula is needed ( if mother is dead for example) however there are more mothers who have lost their babies than babies who have lost their mothers according to an article I just read. That would mean that life saving human milk may be available to these newly orphaned babies. People who are sending formula to Haiti obviously have a heart for babies but it is a better idea to send money to UNICEF or the Red Cross.

  5. [...] Monetary donations are, of course, always needed and will be used in part to help nurse lactating mothers back to health, so they may in turn feed their children. [...]

  6. [...] 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 [...]

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