Disaster in Japan-breastfeeding saves lives


As the disaster in Japan continues to unfold, we are reminded of how vulnerable we all are to the unpredictability of nature.

It is hard to imaging ourselves in the place of the many homeless, hungry families. How would you cope with the cold and wet conditions? Could you feed your children and keep them safe? As parents what can we do to insulate our families from the most devastating aspects of a natural disaster?

If you are the mother of a young child breastfeeding is disaster preparedness. Breastfeeding has been shown by UNICEF to be the safest way to give infants the best nutrition, help them fight illness and keep them warm.

Formula feeding in disaster situations has been shown to cause more health problems than if it had never been available at all. In disaster situations formula fed infants are more likely to suffer diarrhea, dehydration and malnutrition. To summarize-they are more likely to die.

Breastfeeding gives babies the immunity boost they need when they need it the most. Post disaster environments are fetid and filthy. The problem in Japan is compounded by the cold conditions and 500,000 homeless in a bone chilling winter. If clean water was available how would it be warmed? Taking in warm fluid, like breast milk, is an effective way to maintain body temperature in a cold environment. Skin-to-skin contact that is a part of breast helps calm and warm baby, lowering metabolic requirements.

The International Lactation Consultant Association issued a press release soon after the disaster in Japan. They made these recommendations for relief work in disaster areas:

  1. 1.Encourage mothers to continue breastfeeding

2.Feed the mother so she can feed her baby

3.Provide a safe environment to express breast milk

4. Assist mothers separated from their infants with milk removal to maintain supply and prevent milk stasis. Mothers may also choose to nurse another baby.

5. Provide donor milk if needed

6. Assist mothers with relactation if they have already weaned their infants

7. Provide mothers with accurate information about the unique properties of breast milk and the importance if continued breastfeeding

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