Ensuring a baby gets the right nutrients is important in any setting, but especially in a refugee camp, where sanitation and general living conditions are more difficult to maintain. That’s why for World Breastfeeding Week, Lighthouse Relief mobilised into action with a packed programme of events.
World Breastfeeding Week, which falls on 1 to 7 August this year, is an annual celebration which started in 1992 and is coordinated by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action. This year’s theme relates to breastfeeding as a key to sustainable development. The goals under this theme can only be achieved when communities are informed about how breastfeeding relates to sustainable development and are galvanised in its support.
Breastfeeding is relevant to all aspects of sustainability and yet many are unaware of its key role in ensuring not only the wellbeing and optimal nutrition and development of each child, but also in protecting the environment as it needs no packaging, storage, transportation or fuel to prepare.
The Sexual and Reproductive Health team at Lighthouse Relief organised events throughout the week. Women from around Ritsona camp attended information sessions where the team highlighted the importance and practicalities of breastfeeding and introduced our breastfeeding specialist. Residents also attended a tea session outside the Female Friendly Space (FFS), where they received information and support on breastfeeding as well as common problems and how to overcome them. Everyone was invited -- men, women and children -- because they can all play a vital role in creating a network of support for mothers to breastfeed their babies.
Breastfeeding not only allows babies to get the nutrition they need, but also builds an emotional bond with their mothers. This was true for one woman, Hanan. Spending the last few months of her pregnancy crossing over to Europe and adjusting to life in a refugee camp was not easy. The mother of four fled Syria and eventually gave birth to her baby in Greece seven weeks ago. Displacement and a break to normal routines mean it may be difficult for mothers to find comfortable, private places to breastfeed. This is why Lighthouse Relief established a Mum-and-Baby Area within the FFS. Today, this is where Hanan seeks support and a comfortable environment to feed her baby.
Hanan says she enjoys breastfeeding her newborn not only because it is convenient, but also because of the special bond it creates with her child. “I breastfeed to give my baby my milk and my love,” Hanan said as she nursed her baby.
Breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival, especially in fragile and humanitarian settings. Breastfeeding ensures the most safe and secure access to nutrition for infants. Additionally, the nutrients in breast milk are essential for the protection of their health, in the short and long term, decreasing the risks of infection and malnutrition. The usual networks of family and friends who help mothers who have difficulties breastfeeding are often not accessible in emergencies. Stress and disruption of daily routines pose new challenges for breastfeeding women, increasing the need for assistance.
Misconceptions around breastfeeding, such as mothers believing they do not produce enough milk and that their stress levels affect the quality of the breast milk, have deterred some women from practising it. This is why it is important to promote and support breastfeeding among the residents, because not only is it sustainable, it is also vital to the wellbeing of both mother and child in the short and long term.
The uncontrolled distribution of breast milk substitutes, including infant formula, is often a problem in humanitarian settings. Well-meaning donors may send supplies of substitutes, not realising that infants and children who are not breastfed are vulnerable to infection and to developing diarrhoea. They can then easily become malnourished and dehydrated and so are at real risk of death -- further highlighting the essential need to raise awareness around breastfeeding in the camp.
According to the World Health Organization, if every child were breastfed within an hour of birth, given only breast milk for their first six months of life, and continued breastfeeding up to the age of two years, about 800 000 child lives would be saved every year.
The Lighthouse Relief breastfeeding support team supports the WHO recommendation on infant feeding to exclusively breastfeed within one hour after birth and until a baby is six months old. Nutritious complementary foods should then be added while continuing to breastfeed for up to two years or beyond. In addition to protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding, our Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) project also provides extra nutrition to ensure the wellbeing and health of pregnant and breastfeeding women.
The challenges may be greater for the women and mothers of Ritsona so it is paramount that we use this opportunity to empower residents to make informed decisions on feeding their infants safely and securely, especially as this can be a crucial factor in improving life-long health outcomes for babies, mothers and the whole family.
As participants of World Breastfeeding Week, Lighthouse Relief does not accept any donations of breastmilk substitutes, related equipment and complementary baby foods.
Lighthouse Relief is currently recruiting a supervisor for its infant and young child feeding project, as well volunteer midwives. Find out more here.
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