Monday, June 27, 2011

Breast Milk: The Cure

The ultimate low-tech solution for starvation in impoverished countries: Breast Milk. 

A New York Times article "The Breast Milk Cure," states:
What if nutritionists came up with a miracle cure for childhood malnutrition? A protein-rich substance that doesn’t require refrigeration? One that is free and is available even in remote towns like this one in Niger where babies routinely die of hunger-related causes?
Impossible, you say? Actually, this miracle cure already exists. It’s breast milk.

Motherwear Blog recently blogged about the NY Times Piece:

240px-VillageReach_-_mother_and_child_outside_clinic New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristoff is taking a tour of Africa with two readers, and reports this week on the effect of not-breastfeeding in developing countries:
The biggest problem is giving water or animal milk to babies, especially on hot days. Another is that mothers often doubt the value of colostrum, the first milk after childbirth (which is thick and yellowish and doesn’t look much like milk), and delay nursing for a day or two.
One mother near the town of Dosso, Fati Halidou, who has lost four of her seven children, told me that after childbirth, it is best to give a baby sugar water or Koranic water. This is water made by writing a verse of the Koran on a board and then washing it off; the inky water is thought to protect the child.
He notes that an analysis in The Lancet showed that "a baby that is partially breast-fed is 2.8 times as likely to die as a baby that is exclusively breast-fed for at least five months. A child that is not breast-fed at all is 14.4 times as likely to die," and that overall, "1.4 million child deaths could be averted each year if babies were breast-fed properly. That’s one child dying unnecessarily every 22 seconds."
I'm familiar with the colostrum taboo (see a great video which takes aim at it in India), and the belief that babies need water on hot days, but I'd never heard of Koranic water.
You may remember that the New York Times also reported on the dangers of not breastfeeding in Haiti recently.

The mothers' beliefs about the value of colostrum and breast milk when compared to water or animal milk is very important. This is one of the places where we can intervene to help increase the health of women and children in developing nations. It is not exactly the same as the problem we have in developed nations, where women understand the value of breast milk but encounter other booby traps.

The author of the NY Times piece writes:
It’s not clear why a human instinct to nurse went awry. Does it have something to do with the sexualization of breasts? Or with infant formula manufacturers, who irresponsibly peddled their products in the past but are more restrained now? Or is it just that moms worry that their babies need water on hot days? Nobody really knows.
But what is clear is that there’s a marvelous low-tech solution to infant malnutrition all around us.

Helen Keller International’s Infant and Young Child Feeding programs raise awareness among health workers in local communities so they understand the importance of early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding of newborns during the first 6 months of life.

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