The global humanitarian organization Save the Children is supporting efforts to promote breastfeeding among new mothers in Haiti to ensure the protection of the youngest and most vulnerable survivors of the devastating January 12 earthquake.
The agency has translated internationally recognized public health messages into Creole, which are currently being broadcast on local radio stations.
Critical Awareness Campaign Available to Health-focused Groups in Haiti
Save the Children is making these critical communications available to other health-focused groups that are also working with local communities affected by the disaster. Its health staff in Haiti will translate other public health messages over the coming days and coordinate with partners and communities to spread the word about keeping children healthy in the wake of the quake.
Save the Children also is training midwives, health workers and nutritional educators to reach out to pregnant and new mothers at makeshift camps in Port-au-Prince, Leogane and Jacmel.
“Newborns and infants are very vulnerable during emergencies, especially from diarrhea, pneumonia and malnutrition. But mothers can take simple steps to protect their baby’s health through exclusive and proper breastfeeding,” said Kathryn Bolles, Save the Children’s emergency health and nutrition director. “Breast milk provides essential nutrients and strengthens a baby’s immunity, protecting the baby from other illnesses.”
Health Risks from Infant Formulas and Other Supplements
The health messages encourage mothers to exclusively breastfeed babies under 6 months of age, and to continue to breastfeed children until age 2.
Mothers are cautioned against giving babies under 6 months of age anything but breast milk — including water, infant formula, powdered milk or solid food — because of the risks from diarrhea, one of the leading killers of children globally, and because of the risk of becoming malnourished, which leaves babies more susceptible to other illnesses.
“Mothers may not be aware of the threats that infant formula and other supplements pose to their babies. Tainted water used to mix the formula and unsanitary bottles or cups can cause a baby to get sick with diarrhea, which can kill,” said Bolles. “We hope more Haitian mothers will hear our health messages and be encouraged to breastfeed their babies. We also are suggesting mothers seek out support and counseling from organizations like Save the Children if they are having difficulty breastfeeding their baby.”
The awareness campaign also seeks to dispel the myths that may discourage mothers from breastfeeding, among them stress or lack of proper food will cause a mother to produce bad milk or no milk. Instead, mothers are encouraged to breastfeed more often, which will allow them to produce more milk for their baby.
Extremely Poor Survival rates for Haitian Children Prior to Earthquake
Even before the earthquake, survival rates for young Haitian children were the worst in the Western Hemisphere, with nearly 1 in 10 children dying before the age of 5 from preventable and treatable causes like diarrhea and pneumonia.
Save the Children supports the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations that children should be breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life to ensure their most favorable growth and health. WHO, UNAIDS and UNICEF guidelines only recommend “replacement feeding” (breastmilk substitute) when it is “acceptable, feasible, affordable, sustainable, and safe.”
Save the Children has worked in Haiti since 1978 and currently has more than 200 staff in the country.