UN agencies stress need for breastfeeding support to mothers in affected areas
NEW YORK (November 28, 2013) – UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) today called on those involved in the response to the Philippines’ Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) disaster to promote breastfeeding which protects children from unnecessary illness and death.
The estimated 12,000 babies expected to be born in the worst-affected areas of the Philippines this month need to be exclusively breastfed, meaning they only get breast milk, which protects them from potentially deadly infections. Around one third of babies less than six months old in the area who were born before the disaster are already exclusively breastfed, and nine out of ten were at least partially breastfed before the emergency. The mothers who were doing at least some breastfeeding need to be supported to transition to exclusive breastfeeding.
“The uncontrolled distribution and use of infant formula in emergency situations like this—where there are serious water and sanitation challenges and other disease risks—is extremely dangerous. Supporting breastfeeding is one of the most important things we can do to protect babies in areas of the Philippines hit by the typhoon,” says Dr. Julie Hall, WHO Representative in the Philippines.
UNICEF and WHO prioritize the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding as a life-saving measure for babies everywhere, especially in emergencies.
“With the right support—from a health worker, a counselor or another mother—a woman who is already doing some breastfeeding can increase her milk production within days just by feeding her baby more frequently,” says Tomoo Hozumi, UNICEF Representative in the Philippines.
During emergency situations, disease and death rates among babies and children are higher than for any other age group; and the younger the child, the higher the risk, leaving babies under six months most vulnerable. Babies who drink formula made with contaminated water or those who are given an unsterile bottle can become very sick with diarrhea and die within a matter of hours.
Feeding babies with formula in emergencies must only be considered as a last resort, when other safer options—such as helping non-breastfeeding mothers to reinitiate breastfeeding, finding a wet nurse or pasteurized breast milk from a breast milk bank—have been exhausted.
Only a relatively small number of infants under six months affected by this disaster—estimated to number around 6,600—are not breastfed at all. These babies should urgently be identified, their feeding situation assessed, and provided with skilled support and the safest feeding option.
UNICEF and WHO strongly urge all who are involved in funding, planning and implementing the emergency response in the Philippines to avoid unnecessary illness and death by promoting, protecting and supporting breastfeeding. Community leaders are called upon to monitor and report any donations that may undermine breastfeeding.
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The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) works in more than 190 countries and territories to save and improve children’s lives, providing health care and immunizations, clean water and sanitation, nutrition, education, emergency relief and more. The U.S. Fund for UNICEF supports UNICEF’s work through fundraising, advocacy, and education in the United States. Together, we are working toward the day when zero children die from preventable causes and every child has a safe and healthy childhood.
World Health Organization (WHO) is the directing and coordinating authority for health within the United Nations system. It is responsible for providing leadership on global health matters, shaping the health research agenda, setting norms and standards, articulating evidence-based policy options, providing technical support to countries and monitoring and assessing health trends. For more information, visit WHO.int.
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