We all know that breast milk is an important source of nutrients for babies – even more so when food is scarce. But in the aftermath of a disaster, such as Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, breast milk can disappear.
Natural disasters can have dire consequences on the mental health of a population, which in turn has an impact on nutritional wellbeing, especially among children under two years. Lactating mothers who experience post-traumatic stress can lose their ability to give milk. For babies relying on breast milk as their main essential source of nutrients this deprivation poses a serious risk to their growth and development.
In the Philippines, thousands of women are in this predicament. The profoundly difficult conditions – losing one’s home and livelihood, lack of access to food and clean water, concerns about family and friends, the shock of seeing others hurt or killed – all of this is poses a tremendous strain on the wellbeing of mothers, who suddenly find themselves also unable to provide food for their child.
This is why a “baby tent” program is an important part of Action Against Hunger (ACF) efforts on the ground in the Philippines, designed to create a safe nursing space for lactating women and their babies.
“Baby tents” are tents or spaces reserved exclusively for mothers and nursing babies; a safe environment that is more conducive to breastfeeding for affected mothers. Baby tents have proven effective in previous emergencies and are among the priorities for ACF during the first phase of emergency recovery.
Elena Rivero, head of Nutrition at Action Against Hunger Spain, explains, “supporting breast feeding in a vulnerable population is critical. We know that exclusive breastfeeding for six months is one of the most effective strategies to reduce the prevalence of malnutrition, as confirmed by the World Health Organization.”
“In these spaces, something subtle but so important is taking place. Baby tents not only help babies get fed – they also create a safe environment where the bond between mother and child may develop. They help foster positive mental health in an otherwise challenging environment. While the baby tents may not seem an obvious priority they are in fact of crucial importance to the health and nutritional status of children,” adds Amador Gómez, Technical Director of Action Against Hunger Spain.
“We have seen success with this strategy in the past – including here in the Philippines during the aftermath of previous natural disasters,” says Gómez. “By encouraging breastfeeding we are helping mothers and babies survive this difficult time, and laying the ground work for healthy development down the road.”
Quick facts – mothers and babies affected by the disaster
- Over 360,000 pregnant and lactating women affected by the typhoon need specialized services for prenatal, postnatal, child health, health promotion and family planning services.
- An estimated 800,000 pregnant and lactating women will also require nutrition interventions.
- It’s estimated approximately 4.9 million children are affected by the disaster, of whom 1.5 million are children under five years. The younger children in particular are at risk for acute malnutrition if appropriate nutrition solutions are not received.
- To support the baby tent program and our other work in the Philippines, please donate today