INTERNATIONAL AND LOCAL AGENCIES WARN THAT BREAST MILK SUBSITUTES COULD RISK BABIES LIVES
TBILISI. August 27. International humanitarian agencies today urged young mothers not to use breast milk substitutes and continue breastfeeding despite the difficult conditions caused by the emergency.
UNICEF, WHO, USAID, SCF, Claritas XXI, UMCOR, World Vision, IRD and other health and nutrition partners in Georgia stated that no food or liquid other than breast milk, not even water, is needed to meet an infant’s total nutritional requirements during the first six months of life. After this period, infants should begin to receive complementary foods, while breastfeeding continues up to 2 years of age or beyond.
The agencies have formed mobile teams of trained health workers who are now in the field to help mothers to breastfeed and provide professional advice and support for adequate feeding based on individual situation.
Claritas XXI hotline 9277 will be open for all women in need of any advice on breastfeeding and child feeding.
A spokesperson for the agencies, Dragoslav Popovic, said there was a common misconception that in emergencies, many mothers could no longer breastfeed adequately due to stress or inadequate nutrition.
“As a result many mothers felt under pressure and could accept inappropriate donations of infant formula and other milk products.”
“This exposes infants and young children to an increased risk of diarrhoea, infectious disease and malnutrition as the preparation of breast milk substitutes (BMS) requires stringent hygiene procedures in conditions difficult to meet in the displacement setting. The use of feeding bottles only adds further to the risk of infection as they are difficult to clean properly.
On behalf of the International partners, UNICEF Georgia strongly urges all who are involved in funding, planning and implementing an emergency response and in all levels of communication to refer to key policy and programme instruments to avoid unnecessary risks following uncontrolled distribution of BMS. Local and International development partners, communities are called upon to monitor and report any donations that may undermine breastfeeding.
The partners urge the Government of Georgia to include capacity development for breastfeeding and infant and young child feeding as part of emergency preparedness and planning, and to commit financial and human resources for proper and timely implementation of breastfeeding and infant and young child feeding in emergencies.
During emergency situations the risk for under-five children is generally higher than for any other age group and the younger the infant, the higher the risk. The fundamental means of preventing risk to infants and young children is to ensure their appropriate feeding and care. The valuable protection from infection and its consequences that breast milk confers is all the more important in environments of compromised hygiene and safe water supply and sanitation. Therefore, creation of a protective environment and provision of skilled support to breastfeeding women are essential interventions.
Stress can temporarily interfere with the flow of breast milk; however, it is not likely to inhibit breast-milk production, provided mothers and infants remain together and are adequately supported to initiate and continue breastfeeding. Mothers who lack food or who are malnourished can still breastfeed adequately. Adequate fluids and extra food for the mother will help to protect their health and well-being.
In exceptionally difficult circumstances, the focus needs to be on creating conditions that will facilitate breastfeeding, such as establishing safe ‘corners’ for mothers and infants, one-to-one counseling, and mother-to-mother support. Traumatized and stressed women may have difficulty responding to their infants and require particular mental and emotional support. Every effort should be made to identify ways to breastfeed infants and young children who are separated from their mothers, for example by a wet-nurse.
If supplies of infant formula and/or powdered milks are widely available, mothers who might otherwise breastfeed might needlessly start giving artificial feeds.
Any provision of breast milk substitutes for feeding infants and young children should be based on careful needs assessment. All donor agencies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), media, individuals wishing to help and other partners, should avoid calls for and sending donations of BMS, bottles and teats and refuse any unsolicited donations of these products. BMS should be used only under strict control and monitoring and in hygienic conditions, and in accordance with the International Code of Marketing of Breast milk Substitutes and subsequent relevant World Health Assembly resolutions, as well as humanitarian agencies' policies and guidelines. There should be no general distribution of BMS.
Children from the age of six months require nutrient-rich complementary foods in addition to breastfeeding. Complementary feeding should be addressed with priority for locally available, nutritionally adequate family foods that brought up generations of Georgians in established guidelines on complementary feeding.
Provision of fortified foods or micronutrient supplements such as vitamin A or zinc in supervised programmes for young children represent a much more appropriate form of assistance than sending milk products. In rations for general food distribution programmes, pulses, meat, or fish are preferable to powdered milk.
For further information, please contact:
Maya Kurtsikidze, Communication Officer, UNICEF Georgia
Doctor Ketevan Nemsadze, (995 77) 100 700