Saturday, August 01, 2009

World Breastfeeding Week: The Unexpected

This year's World Breastfeeding Week's theme is Emergencies. More specifically, "Breastfeeding: A Vital Emergency Response: Are You Ready?"

At first this had me scratching my head, wondering what I could possibly say about emergencies and breastfeeding. I don't live in a part of the world that is habitually visited by the ire of mother nature, so I really don't know a lot about natural disasters or the types of living conditions often endured by people in "emergencies." Sure, I've seen the inside of my share of tornados (one), but never with deterimental outcome to anything other than the yard. But then as I read a little further, I learned the following.
Now bear with me a moment, as this one is something of a no-brainer... Children are the most vulnerable in an emergency. Well, no duh. They can't take care of themselves, so again, let me say it- duh.
But it's deeper than their dependence on a caregiver. As is pointed out on the site, it's a bigger issue than that.

  • Children are the most vulnerable in emergencies – child mortality can soar from 2 to 70 times higher than average due to diarrhoea, respiratory illness and malnutrition.
  • Breastfeeding is a life saving intervention and protection is greatest for the youngest infants. Even in non-emergency settings, non-breastfed babies under 2 months of age are six times more likely to die.
  • Emergencies can happen anywhere in the world. Emergencies destroy what is ‘normal,’ leaving caregivers struggling to cope and infants vulnerable to disease and death.
  • During emergencies, mothers need active support to continue or re-establish breastfeeding.
  • Emergency preparedness is vital. Supporting breastfeeding in non-emergency settings will strengthen mothers’ capacity to cope in an emergency.

  • And this, my friends, got me thinking.
    We *have* been without electricity and therefore without water a few times in my life. Sure, I can drink whatever bottled malarky there happens to be lying about, but that's not a safe source of nutrition for an infant. If you have well water, you don't have water without electricity. Formula is certainly not a good option, even if you are just waiting for the power to come on, because you need clean water to mix the formula and the ability to wash the baby's bottles.
    And you certainly can't be storing excess formula for later use without electricity.
    Now lets say you're being forced to evacuate the area, formula, again, isn't a very good option. How do you know you'll have access to potable water? How do you know you'll have access to the sorts of facilities necessary to get the bottles clean enough to be safe to use? Nearly no-one is going to think to grab a bottle brush and a bottle of dishsoap before rushing out the door in an emergency evacuation, and so then the babies are looking at getting fed water from questionable sources in bottles that are less than clean! Think of the illness to which that could lead.
    I know, maybe I'm being a touch dramatic, but for the record, I once was living in a small town in New Mexico. After about a month of living there I got to spend two weeks in the hospital, pregnant, rapidly losing weight, and unable to hold anything down. After more tests than you can shake a stick at, the dietician asked me a very simple question.
    "Have you been drinking the tap water?"
    Um, yes?
    Aparently I missed the one notice posted on a faded and dusty sign at one of the main entrances to the town which pointed out, but only to the observant traveler, that the water was in fact, not potable.
    Of course, the people who lived there drank it some of the time, but being raised around it, that wasn't a big deal for their bodies. I, on the other hand, was not, and instead was made violently ill. But imagine if you were in an emergency situation and temporarily being relocated, would you have seen the sign? Would you have known what it meant? Would you have understood why the more water you gave your baby, the sicker she got?
    Probably not.
    So yeah, I totally see why breastfeeding needs to be encouraged specifically for its emergency scenario benefits. Lets face it, it's a foodsource you certainly won't forget to bring along in a time of crisis.
    So be ready. Help others be ready. Help new mothers to stick with it for the health and protection of their children. It's not just about saving money, it's about saving lives too.

    0 reflections: