Two Weeks Since Typhoon Haiyan, Save the Children says Breast Milk Critical to Health of 25,000 Newborns Expected in Disaster Areas Within the Next Month

Two Weeks Since Typhoon Haiyan, Save the Children says Breast Milk Critical to Health of 25,000 Newborns Expected in Disaster Areas Within the Next Month

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Francine Uenuma 202.450.9153

WESTPORT, Conn. (November 21, 2013) — The international aid organization Save the Children is urging mothers affected by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines to keep breastfeeding their babies to prevent them from contracting illnesses such as diarrhea — which can be life-threatening, especially in an emergency — and to gain the full nutritional benefit of breast milk.

According to the United Nations Population Fund, 25,000 babies are expected to be born within the next month in the areas most affected by the typhoon.

"Breastfeeding is critical for newborn babies, especially following a disaster like Typhoon Haiyan, which has had a devastating impact on the Philippines," said Jesse Hartness, Save the Children's Advisor for Nutrition in Emergencies.

"Not only does it provide infants with a complete form of nutrition, but it reduces the risk of them contracting illnesses like diarrhea, which are common in the aftermath of disasters.

"Breastfeeding is the world's most powerful defense, when it comes to saving children's lives. It actually builds children's immune systems and strengthens their future protection against illnesses and malnutrition.

"There are a lot of myths about the benefits of baby formula, but nothing beats breast milk. Often water used to mix baby formula is contaminated following a disaster, and it's incredibly difficult to keep feeding bottles sterilized and safe for babies. And it doesn't have the same protective and nutritional value of breast milk.

"In emergencies, it is the youngest who are at the greatest risk of serious illness. In fact, non-breastfed infants are 50 times more likely to be hospitalized from diarrhea than breastfed babies."

In the Philippines, Save the Children is working to promote and protect breastfeeding practices in the heavily impacted areas around Tacloban on Leyte Island and the northeast of Panay Island, and to improve knowledge around feeding practices.

At the Pontevedra Health Unit on Panay Island, one of the worst hit parts of the Philippines, May-Joy, a mother of three, has taken her two-week-old daughter Ariana – born five days before the typhoon struck – for a routine blood test.

May-Joy believes strongly in the benefits of breast milk, especially following the typhoon, which destroyed her family home and much of the sugarcane crop her husband farms.

"I believe in the power of breastfeeding. It can save our children and has been used throughout my family," she says. "It is natural and much better than formula, which can be dangerous if not mixed properly. Plus, it's more difficult to access and costs money. I could spend that money on my children."

Save the Children is beginning to roll out nine mobile health clinics to support affected communities on Leyte and Panay islands as part of a comprehensive strategy to support breastfeeding mothers in this emergency. The first clinic will open in Palo today, with two more to begin operating in Leyte next week. Six clinics are planned for Panay Island.

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