Importance of Breastfeeding during an Emergency or Natural Disaster

I recently was on vacation in Kauai when the traumatic Japan earthquake and tsunami hit which resulted in the Hawaii Tsunami. Here I was, in the wake of an impending natural disaster, realizing the fate of what was happening and what could be happening. All over the news were the horrific images of the tremendous damage caused by the 8.9 earthquake and the further devastation of the tsunami that quickly followed. On our island, life as we knew it stood still. Concerned people were frantically packing, others were stopped dead in their tracks glued to the TV for the latest update, while still many were gearing up for what could be a catastrophic situation. We specifically were on the beach when we heard the news. The sirens from the ocean warning center began screeching every hour. The alarms would sound warning people to head for higher ground. The airports closed down, the streets were flooded with people trying to head to a higher elevation. Gas stations had wait lines of over an hour.We were told by the coast guard to evacuate , that there wasn’t much more we could do but wait it out and hope for the best.

We were for the most part trapped. We were not really being told very much about the severity of the situation over in Japan, but rather what steps to take to protect ourselves, the beautiful island of Kauai and the neighboring sister islands. Being from California, I have had tsunami warnings before, however none quite as intense as this one. Our cell phones began ringing with concerned family and friends waiting to hear if we were okay. Panic was beginning to set in. Predictions were being made by the Tsunami Center located in Honolulu about the size and intensity of the impending waves. No one was quite sure what was really coming. People were feverishly trying to stock up on water and food for this disaster approaching in a few hours. After the initial shock set in and the denial wore off, all we could do was wait and pray.

Finally after 7 agonizing hours, and constant interruptions from the hotel intercom, this “Impending Nightmare” came and went. Thankfully, we were not hit as hard as was first anticipated by the warning center. Although Kauai was first in line , the damage was mild. The waves reached about 9-12 feet in height and came in about 1/3 of a mile or so. We were spared, and were very grateful. Then the real news sunk in on the island. After our initial drama had passed, the footage of the real disaster in Japan surfaced and we began to see the horror that was unfolding and still is unfolding in Japan. My heart broke for those people, the families, the babies. Something as simple as fresh water that we take for granted on a daily basis, food, shelter, was all lost to them in a blink of an eye.

All over the news there were stories of the deaths from this horrifying natural disaster. As the tolls were rising, and reality was setting in, people were realizing that although the trauma of the earthquake and tsunami were over, the nightmare was just beginning.

I read of a story about a family who was desperately seeking for a can of formula to feed their new baby, that this poor father had exasperated every avenue and was not sure of what to do in order to save his family.  I could almost hear the desperation in his voice and see it in his eyes. This led me to think about all the mothers and their babies, and the importance of breast milk in emergency situations.

Many people feel that donating cans of formula may help aid these babies. However, in tsunami struck areas, where clean water is hard to come by, feeding babies artificially with baby formula truly is a “formula” for disaster! As stated by UNICEF, this organization has demonstrated time and time again that formula-feeding during disasterous situations brings about infection, diarrhea, dehydration, malnutrition and death to a much greater degree than if formula would have never been sent in the first place.

Breastfeeding mothers have a gift, that is ready and willing to save the lives of so many babies. The properties and benefits of breast milk are numerous, as I have listed in previous posts.

Benefits for Baby:

  • Breast milk is perfect nutrition which continually changes to meet growth and developmental needs
  • Breast milk is easy to digest resulting in less colic and digestive problems
  • Antibodies in breast milk keep babies healthier resulting in fewer ear, respiratory, and urinary tract infections
  • Breastfed infants have a decreased incidence of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)
  • Breastfed Children are less likely to suffer from diabetes, asthma, allergies, obesity and childhood cancers
  • Breastfed children score higher on cognitive and IQ tests

These as we know are the scientific facts. The bottom line however is that in the wake of an emergency breastfeeding can save or prolong the lives of these children. When water and nutrients are not readily available breast milk can be, and it my be the driving life source for the tiniest of lives in the wake of a disaster. So mothers hold on to this gift, cherish it, and remember that every drop and every day makes a difference.

For information on donating breast milk to help with the natural disaster click on the following link. Human milk for Human babies

For other stories on how breast feeding has saved lives in the line of disaster click on the links below.

The Kati Kim Story –   As each day passes and their hopes of rescue dim, Kati Kim will resort to breast feeding her two daughters to keep them from dying.  They will battle starvation, sub-zero temperatures, frostbite and hypothermia and at one point, desperately set their tires afire in an attempt to signal help.

Selma Hayek on why she breastfed another woman’s baby

Copyright© 2011 Danielle Gauss,IBCLC – All Rights Reserved.

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One Response to Importance of Breastfeeding during an Emergency or Natural Disaster

  1. Beautiful article. Thank you for posting this. Glad you are safe.

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