Not in Africa or Asia, but right here, right now, literally miles from your front door. As I type this, there are families with new babies struggling to feed their families, living in a cold, temporary camp and attempting to make up baby bottles without access to hot water or sterilising equipment.
On top of that, there are no NGOs helping out who know anything about infant feeding. The only breastfeeding support in Calais and Dunkirk is coming from a few volunteers. These people are our guests in Europe, fleeing death and destruction and we are letting them down.
I know I’ve been thinking, “oh, if I could afford to go, and leave my work and family, I’d be there like a shot”. It feels like a difficult thing to do, but the Calais Jungle is minutes from the British border and the Eurotunnel terminal and ferry port at Calais. The Dunkirk refugee camp at Grande-Synth is 40 minutes drive away. Even one day can be a useful contribution to volunteering in Dunkirk and Calais, especially if you are able to go on short notice to help with feeding crises. 2 or 3 days is definitely of use.
Plans are underway to get some funding for travel and accommodation costs so not having money available to put towards this should not be a barrier to volunteering in northern France.
Dunkirk is a proper camp, albeit one that is still being built! The camp managers are supportive of having trained infant feeding volunteers on site, as are the long term volunteers at the women’s centre. And the long term volunteers at Dunkirk, and the warehouse, are open to learning about how to best support infant feeding.
The charity Medecins Sans Frontieres are are on site at Dunkirk to deal with any medical issues, but they do not handle infant feeding – they just don’t have the capacity or the knowledge. It’s more complex and fluid at Calais, but most babies are now at Dunkirk and there are volunteers at Calais who could do with having a way to contact appropriately trained infant feeding supporters when needed. The nearly complete women’s centre at the Dunkirk camp will provide a base for infant feeding volunteers.
Right now there are mothers having new babies in French hospitals being told they must formula feed by doctors who have no idea the conditions they are living in nor the dangers that come along with the use of powdered formula, bottles and teats in such challenging conditions.
So YOU are needed! Dunkirk has hundreds of children. The youngest baby living there is just a week old. Save the Children and UNICEF have, until very recently, had no presence at all in Dunkirk. They are not dealing with infant feeding. No one is properly. People are donating formula, thinking it will help – and volunteers are handing it out, believing they are doing good, sometimes sabotaging perfectly successful breastfeeding relationships on the process.
Mixed feeding is common amongst Middle Eastern populations and many mothers struggle with the same things mothers in the UK do – fears they do not have enough milk or that their milk is not good enough for their baby. They may think they have to stop breastfeeding when they don’t. Doctors are advising formula inappropriately and parents and volunteers think follow on formulas are necessary and safe. Bottles are still widely used, even though these pose a huge infection risk in refugee camps, and it is expected that there will be an increase in sickness and diarrhroea from these as the weather warms up unless changes happen fast.
The camps desperately need more help from people who know something about infant feeding, mothers and babies. So if you’re a breastfeeding counsellor, IBCLC, peer supporter or doula, you are needed! We need people to do some training specific to infant feeding in emergencies and volunteer to go to the camp.
Training can be done online – it will be quick, simple and free. More people are needed to help coordinate logistics and get a group together so we can make this happen – FAST . There are mothers desperate for breastfeeding support and they can’t wait.
What YOU can do:
If you want to help, here are some online training opportunities:
- Womanly Art of Breastfeeding by Diane Wiessinger
- A Fading Art: Breastfeeding in the Middle East by Modia Batterjee