Should We Debate Breast Milk vs. Formula When We Help Typhoon Victims?
If you’ve seen the photos and read the news from the Philippines, I’m sure your heart is breaking for all of the victims of this horrible storm just as mine is. As a mother, I can’t imagine how it would be to lose your home and loved ones and have to worry about how you will feed your children, and the people of the Philippines have been in our thoughts since the typhoon.
Usually, the outpouring of support from across the world in times like this is a beautiful reminder of how wonderful people can be. But this time, there is something that isn’t sitting quite right with me. I’ve been reading several articles and statements made by a variety of reputable organizations regarding formula donations. The Department of Health of the Philippines has taken many steps to promote breastfeeding in the country, which we can probably all agree is a very good thing. But as part of that promotion, they have banned the donation of formula in “times of calamity” such as this, with the full support of the World Health Organization. Instead, they encourage women to exclusively breastfeed or, if they have already stopped breastfeeding, to re-lactate.
One one hand, I understand the difficulty that formula poses here. Powdered formulas require water and, in the Philippines, clean water supplies are rapidly disappearing. I fully understand that using tainted water to prepare powdered formula is extremely dangerous to infants. BUT the ban doesn’t just apply to powders – it also applies to pre-mixed formula! I find it very difficult to understand why pre-mixed formula cannot be distributed to women who cannot breastfeed, or to children who have lost their mothers. Even if relactation is the goal, that can take up to two weeks on average, during which time the feedings will certainly need to be supplemented.
I’m also appalled by the statements of some US-based breastfeeding groups who have encouraged Americans to donate breast milk instead of formula…in the UNITED STATES! Because breast milk donations can’t be accepted from the US, some groups have said that women here should donate their breast milk domestically and then, at least, they will be helping US children, if not the millions impacted in the Philippines.
In my opinion, there is a time and place for certain types of advocacy. Promoting breastfeeding is admirable and incredibly beneficial to mothers and babies. But when babies who have lived through a typhoon are in danger of starving to death, it doesn’t seem like the appropriate time to hammer home the benefits of the boob. Rather, I would suggest we all do whatever we can to directly help the people of the Philippines, including these admirable organizations:
UNICEF, whose mission is to help children across the world, is collecting funds to save the lives of children and families impacted by the typhoon.
CARE, an organization that focuses on empowering and helping women and children worldwide, is providing emergency assistance to the people of the Philippines.
The UN’s World Food Program is providing emergency food assistance to families and children in the Philippines.
So while women are being helped to continue to breast feed or in some cases to relactate, which I thoroughly support and we should all continue to do so, is it not okay to provide pre-mixed formula to the children with nothing else to eat, waiting on breast milk or who indeed have lost their mother altogether?