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Breastfeeding is life-saving for babies in Philippines typhoon emergency

UN agencies stress need for breastfeeding support to mothers in affected areas

Joint news release: WHO, UNICEF

UNICEF and WHO today called on those involved in the response to the Philippines’ Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda) disaster to promote and protect breastfeeding to avoid unnecessary illness and deaths of children.

Exclusive breastfeeding in first 6 months vital

The estimated 12 000 babies to be born in the worst-affected areas this month need to be exclusively breastfed, meaning that they get nothing but breast milk, which protects them from potentially deadly infections. Around one third of babies in the area born before the disaster who are less than 6 months old are already exclusively breastfed, and 9 out of 10 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,” said Dr Julie Hall, WHO Representative in the Philippines.

"Supporting breastfeeding is one of the most important things we can do to protect babies in areas of the Philippines hit by the typhoon."

Dr Julie Hall, WHO Representative in the Philippines

UNICEF and WHO prioritise the protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding as a life-saving measure for babies everywhere, and especially in emergencies.

“With the right support – from a health worker, a counsellor 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,” said Tomoo Hozumi, UNICEF Representative in the Philippines.

Babies under 6 months the most vulnerable in emergency situations

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 6 months most vulnerable. Babies who drink formula made with water that is contaminated with germs or given with an unsterile bottle or teat, can become very sick with diarrhoea 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 first been fully explored.

Only a relatively small number of infants under 6 months affected by this disaster – estimated to number around 6 600 – are not breastfed at all. These babies should be urgently identified, their feeding situation assessed, and be 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 protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding. Community leaders are called upon to monitor and report any donations that may undermine breastfeeding.

For further information, please contact:

Liv Lawe-Davies
Communications Officer
WHO, Manila
Telephone: +63 915 896 6345
E-mail: lawedavieso@who.int

Gregory Härtl
Coordinator, News and Social Media
WHO, Geneva
Telephone: +41 79 203 6715
E-mail: hartlg@who.int

Zafrin Chowdhury
UNICEF, Tacloban
Telephone: + 63 917 867 8366
E-mail: zchowdhury@unicef.org

Kate Donovan
UNICEF, Tacloban
Telephone: + 1 212 303 7984,
Mobile: + 1 917 3781 2128
E-mail: kdonovan@unicef.org

Denise Shepherd-Johnson
UNICEF, Manila
Telephone: + 63 917 464 7028
E-mail: dshepherdjohnson@unicef.org

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