Two years ago, LATCH responded to a call by WHO/UNICEF for breastmilk donations and relactation efforts in evacuation centers where victims of Ondoy were housed. There was a call for breastfeeding counselors and LATCH worked with Arugaan to visit victims, bring breastmilk donations and conduct relactation information drives in Cainta, Rizal and Ultra, Pasig.
The Ondoy mission was very organized, with information on how breastfeeding moms can help plus a synchronized breastfeeding activity to collect milk. Based on our experience with Ondoy, what can really help these moms at the evacuation center is not the donation of breastmilk but rather information on how they can relactate and breastfeed their babies in the evacuation centers EVEN IF they have been giving breastmilk substitutes before the calamity.
We have realized that donating breastmilk has a lot of logistical issues for instance - transport and storage while transport of breastmilk from milk banks such as UP-PGH, PCMC and Fabella to the evacuation centers; storage facilities of the milk at the evacuation centers; cups or apparatus to be used to feed the milk to the babies; and information/sessions to teach mothers how to properly feed the babies using cups of expressed milk. Further, we realized that a lot of moms in the evacuation centers were actually breastfeeding their babies and just needed encouragement, information and support that they can still continue breastfeeding even during the emergency.
La Leche League International released detailed information on infant feeding during emergencies. Salient points are:
Women breastfeeding their children need to be supported. This involves giving appropriate information, practical assistance and encouragement to continue breastfeeding, especially if they are experiencing difficulties. The recommendation that mothers be supported to exclusively breastfeed their babies for six months and then continue to breastfeed for up to two years or beyond is even more important in emergency situations. Breastfeeding is a robust physiological process and psychological trauma does not impact milk production, although this is a common misconception.I cannot overemphasize that the key here is the availability of breastfeeding information AND relactation. Calls for breastmilk donation would not be sustainable without the logistical support like what was available in Ondoy. LATCH and Arugaan were not paid for their efforts during Ondoy but we did work with UNICEF who organized us and scheduled our visits to evacuation centers. In the same vein, for relief efforts to be successful for Pedring and Quiel victims, a central organized activity needs to be set up.
Mothers who have weaned their babies should be encouraged and provided with assistance to relactate as a first choice intervention. When mothers allow their babies to suckle at their breasts frequently throughout the day and night, they can expect to begin producing milk again within a short period (a few days to a few weeks).
In cases where there are babies whose mothers have died or cannot be located, the option of wet nursing should be explored. In such instances babies may be breastfed by a woman who is already lactating or a friend or relative may relactate or induce lactation by allowing the baby to suckle at her breasts frequently through the day and night.
UNICEF tapped Arugaan who brought their own network of community mothers. Arugaan are experts in relactation and wet-nursing (LATCH is not). But I have to emphasize, these community mothers are mothers who need to be PAID (e.g. they are not volunteer mothers - but mothers who are daily wage earners e.g. labanderas, etc.). If they are asked to give up a day's work to go to evacuation centers and help moms relactate or act as wet-nurses, they will have no money to feed their own families at the end of the day.
I'm sorry to be such a downer for this activity. But I just want to keep it real based on our past experiences.