Does Haiti Need America's Breast Milk? Probably Not.

The suggestion that Haiti is in urgent need of breastmilk donations has apparently launched a thousand breast pumps. However well-intentioned, the effort appears to be misguided.

Fueled by press releases from breastfeeding advocates, parenting blogs and even The Los Angeles Times's health blog have been encouraging donations to milk banks to be sent to needy babies in Haiti. The trouble is, there doesn't seem to be any infrastructure available to transport or store it. According to an MSNBC report, donations are actively being discouraged:

"Tell them not to send it," said Eric Porterfield, a spokesman for the American Red Cross. "I'm 100 percent sure we didn't ask for that."

The international Emergency Nutrition Network has asked one group, the Human Milk Banking Association of North America, to retract a press release this week that issued an "urgent call" for breast milk for orphaned and premature infants in Haiti, saying the donations contradict best practices for babies in emergencies.

Such donations pose problems of transportation, screening, supply and storage and create an "unfeasible and unsafe intervention," according to a statement from the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance, or OFDA.

Right now, HMBANA's site contains a very carefully hedged statement:

In order to support HMBANA to be prepared to provide donor milk if UNICEF, the Red Cross, WHO or other international organizations involved on the front lines were to contact us, please call your nearest HMBANA bank (found here) and become a donor so that we will have the needed processed donor milk.

HMBANA's president gave a slightly different message in a Time story:

Since so-called booby bloggers first posted word earlier this week of the need for milk, thousands of women have been clamoring to donate milk to babies on the Haitian mainland. But the truth - for now, at least - is that they can't. "You want to feed those babies when you see those pictures out there," says Pauline Sakamoto, president of HMBANA, "but there is no freezer space and no electricity."

(Side note: Does anyone really call them booby bloggers?) There is conflicting information about what has happened to the breastmilk that HMBANA sent — Time says a shipment of breastmilk from the United States made it to the medical ship Comfort's freezers through pro-bono courier and a military helicopter, but then talks about a Navy mom working on Haiti providing the milk. And MSNBC says the milk wasn't used at all:

But the staff on the U.S. Navy ship said they haven't used the milk out of concerns raised by OFDA and other agencies. Mothers aboard the Comfort are urged to nurse their own babies and there's infant formula available to children whose mothers cannot or will not breast-feed, said Lt. David Shark, a U.S. Navy spokesman.

Sounds like it's back to donating money.

Breast-Milk for Haiti: Why Donations Are Being Discouraged [Time]
Call For Breast Milk Donations In Haiti Goes Bust [MSNBC]
Situation in Haiti [HMBANA]
Infant Victims Of Haiti's Earthquake Need Breast Milk [LAT]
Haiti Now Accepting Breast Milk Donations [Babble]