I feel particularly blessed as I reflect on the role I play as a mother to two children in this world. I am also so thankful for the freedom and opportunities they get to experience. Not all mothers get to feel this way and this is a painful reality.
I recently became aware of a U.S. based nonprofit called Nurture Project International (NPI) founded by an amazing woman named Brooke Bauer.
NPI has teams serving vulnerable women and their infants in Greece's refugee camps right now. With my interests in refugee health and breastfeeding, you can imagine that as soon as I learned about their work my attention was captured.
I want to highlight NPI this Mother's Day and give you more information about their background, mission, and current needs. I encourage all of you to stay tuned to their work and give support as you are able and willing! I will be donating 15% of the profits from my online course, Prenatal Breastfeeding Companion, to their efforts.
Some Q & A with Brooke of Nurture Project International
Q: How did NPI get started?
Brooke: I started the organization in my sitting room in January. I have been working in infant feeding support as a La Leche League leader for a number of years here in the Middle East. At the end of last year I was speaking with a friend about going to Greece to support her midwifery work and was planning a trip for March of 2016. After posting on a couple of FB groups I was asked if I wanted to join a group that was focused on providing infant feeding support for the refugees. They are based online and didn't formally have anyone in the field but they provided document translation for the mothers and did social media campaigns to highlight the dangers of formula donations in emergencies. Once I was linked to this group I realised that there was a need for volunteers on the ground and decided to recruit a few friends to go with me as an infant feeding team. From there the idea of creating a dedicated organization focused only on infant feeding was formed and Nurture Project International was born. We formally registered on January 25th as a non profit in the US and our teams in Greece arrived mid-March. My 7 month old daughter and I were also there in March to assist in getting the operations on the ground.
Q: How did you get involved in this type of work?
Brooke: I have worked in international public health for the past ten years and have, for the last five years, growing my own family. I have four children; the oldest is 5 and the youngest is 7 months. While I have been having my own children I became a certified breastfeeding counselor, certified doula, and childbirth educator. I have been supporting mothers locally in the Middle East where I live for the last five years. When I heard about the crisis I just couldn't sit back and do nothing. I knew that infant feeding in emergencies is a core humanitarian principal that was overlooked so felt that I have the capability to step forward and fill in the gaps.
Q: Why do you think this work is necessary?
Brooke: Refugee children face unimaginable health consequences from malnutrition, unsanitary conditions, and poverty. During emergency situations, the rates of disease and death among under-five children is higher than for any other age group. Infants are the highest risk. The younger the baby the bigger the risk. In an emergency breastfeeding saves lives. Formula fed babies die at a much higher rate than breastfed babies in emergencies, their risk of death increases 1,300% for formula fed infants over breastfed infants.
Formula donations come in from well meaning individuals all the time and mothers are often told that their milk is bad or that they can't breastfeed because of stress, neither of which is true.
I outlined the complexity of the situation here: http://nurtureprojectinternational.org/milk-in-chios/
Q: How is NPI impacting the refugee crisis?
Brooke: By helping mothers to breastfeed and helping formula feeding mothers to safely bottle feed we are very simply saving lives. We provide a safe space for mothers to feed, wash, clothe, and play with their babies. We provide loving support and comprehensive information for the mothers.
Q: Do many of the mothers breastfeed, or bottlefeed? Or is it an even mix?
Brooke: Many mothers do breastfeed. Some were given poor information when they gave birth so some have bottlefed from the start but many do breastfeed. Some exclusively and some do a mixture of breast and bottle. We support all mothers but it is the mothers who are doing a mixture that our team works really hard to support so that they can build up their milk supply to exclusively breastfeed. The vast majority of mothers want to build up their supply and exclusively breastfeed once they learn of the risks of bottle feeding in this situation. It is these mothers who are often seeing their children becoming ill and they are very determined to stop the use of the bottle. Mother's intuition is very smart and the mothers that we meet often know that the bottle is the reason why the babies are ill but they don't know exactly how they can increase their supply. So that is where we come in. For many of us who breastfed ourselves we knew how important support was even in the best of conditions. These mothers are caring for their newborns in dire conditions with little support available. So we are there to do anything that we can.
We are code compliant, meaning that we follow all international codes of conduct for breastmilk substitutes (baby formula). We assess all mothers that come to our tent to see how we can best support them and ask them information about how they feed their babies and ask questions about their baby's health. From there we develop a care plan. If the mother does not have the option to breastfeed then we provide ready to use infant formula in single use containers and teach the mothers how to cup feed their babies. Even a tiny infant can cup feed. Cup feeding s much safer in emergencies than bottle feeding. Bottles are very hard to clean and sterilize. We encourage mothers with babies over one year old to not have infant formula at all as it is not sterile and can be fatal in this situation. So we encourage babies over 1 year old to drink whole cows milk or to even not have any milk all together if a wide variety of complementary foods are available.
Q: Can you explain what you do exactly to help with infant feeding?
Brooke: We have a very detailed standard operating procedure. We provide breastfeeding support and when that is not possible we provide safe artificial milk and provide women and their children with a stable, secure source of their baby milk. In addition to infant feeding we provide psychosocial support, targeted clothing distribution, prenatal support, we attend births and help facilitate breastfeeding when possible, baby hygiene station where babies can be washed and a nappy changing station.
Q: What do you need to assist with refugee infant feeding?
Brooke: We run 100% on grassroots donations. Our staff is all volunteer so all of our donations go to our project sites.
When looking to donate items it is important for everyone to understand that donation of bottles, infant formula, and pacifiers is very dangerous and should actively be discouraged.
Sending money to organizations operating in the field is really the best way to support projects. Not only does it allow the organization who are working directly with refugees to ask and find out exactly what is needed but it benefits the local economy as well if the NGOs are able to purchase items locally.
Thank you for your time Brooke! You and the rest of the NPI team are doing truly amazing work that is having a huge impact on this vulnerable population.
Wishing everyone a Happy Mother's Day this May the 8th!