Support and promotion of breastfeeding should be part of epidemic control efforts in Haiti
Washington, D.C., November 18, 2010 (PAHO) — Breastfeeding during the current cholera epidemic is critical to saving Haitian babies’ lives, according to experts at the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).
According to research, immune factors against cholera are present in the breast milk of mothers who have contracted the disease. This means that breastfeeding boosts babies’ immune systems while also eliminating the risks of consuming contaminated water, either directly or mixed with baby formula.
Cholera can be especially dangerous for babies and young children. In Haiti, their risk of death is especially high because many are undernourished and have fewer reserves to fight dehydration. Babies and young children with suspected cholera should be taken for prompt medical treatment.
Given problems with sanitation and potable water in Haiti, breastfeeding during the current epidemic is an important prevention strategy.
“Breastfeeding helps protect the health of babies everywhere,” said PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses, “but it is especially important in Haiti and especially at this critical time. We need to actively promote breastfeeding as an integral part of our efforts to fight cholera.”
PAHO/WHO and UNICEF recommend that mothers everywhere breastfeed their babies exclusively for the first six months of life. After that, babies should continue to be breastfed for up to two years while also being given complementary foods.
In Haiti, mothers should protect not only babies but also other family members by feeding them only cooked foods, and by serving those foods while they are still warm.
If babies are not breastfed, ready-to-use formula should be used. However, any distribution and use of breast-milk substitutes should be carefully monitored to ensure that only designated mothers receive them. International guidelines say that all purchases of formula should be coordinated with UNICEF. Donations of infant formula, bottles and teats, and powdered milks are not recommended, because uncontrolled distribution of these products can endanger infants’ lives.
Mothers known to be infected with HIV should exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first six months and continue breastfeeding for 12 months. In such cases, mother and/or baby should also be provided with antiretroviral therapy.