The breastfeeding world is abuzz with news of a police officer in China who is wet-nursing eight babies, five of them orphaned by the recent earthquake.
Read the story here or here.
Once again, breastfeeding has been proven to save the lives of infants in the aftermath of a disaster.
It bothers me that both news accounts say that the babies were left in an institution that did not have powdered milk, as if that were the more ideal situation. In fact, the use of powdered milk -- in ordinary life but even moreso in a disaster situation -- could be deadly to infants. Imagine the risks involved in feeding powdered milk to babies when clean water is scarce, hygiene is poor and diseases abound! It would be next to impossible to sterilize feeding bottles, artificial nipples and water.
This is why UNICEF and WHO have released a statement stating, "there should be no donations of breast milk substitutes (BMS), such as infant formula, other milk products, bottle-fed complementary foods represented for use in children up to 2 years of age, complementary foods, juices, teas represented for use in infants under six months; and bottles and teats."
The most ideal situation is for infants to be breastfed either by their own mothers or other mothers, such as what Jiang Xiaojuan is doing in China. Unfortunately, the practice of wet-nursing has all but disappeared in many cultures, including rural Philippines. Most people find it weirder for a child to suckle from another woman than from a plastic bottle!
Breastfeeding women who have been traumatized by disaster should receive counseling so that they can resume breastfeeding. But I wonder, how many health and social workers are trained to provide such counseling?
Even if the breastfeeding mother is malnourished and dehydrated, she can still breastfeed. In that case, the mother needs to receive adequate food; it is not necessary to give artificial milk to her baby to make up for the mother's inadequate nutrition.
If artificial feeding is necessary, UNICEF and WHO say that liquid ready-to-use infant formula is the most appropriate, and should be given with a cup and spoon, not bottles and nipples.
Download the official UNICEF and WHO statement here.