In the wake of Typhoon Haiyan, well-meaning people all over the world are sending support, supplies and cash donations to the Philippines. But there’s one donation that absolutely no one should be sending to the typhoon-stricken region: baby formula. Gulf News reports that the department of health has been actively trying to promote breastfeeding in the Philippines, and they have a policy in place that prohibits the donation of formula milk for babies in temporary shelters during a calamity. Instead, government officials along with hospitals in Manila are asking that nursing moms nationwide donate breast milk to typhoon devastated central Philippines. Dr. Jessica Anne Dumalag, of Manila’s Philippine General Hospital’s (PGH) Human Milk Bank tells the Gulf News, “If you’re a breastfeeding mom, you can help ease babies’ plight in Visayas and other Yolanda (Typhoon Haiyan)- hit areas by sharing the milk you give your own children. Milk from lactating mothers is preferred over formula milk, which is basically processed cow’s milk.” Because many survivors of Typhoon Haiyan are babies and toddlers, getting enough breast milk is a big deal and avoiding formula may be key to the ongoing survival of babies in typhoon hit areas.

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You may think you’re helping by sending infant formula donations to the youngest typhoon survivors, but in fact you may be putting their health at risk. As with most areas hit by natural and other disasters, obtaining enough clean drinking water is a major problem. Julie Hall, the Philippines’ World Health Organization (WHO) country representative, told the Philippine Star that this alone makes formula donation a very bad idea, stating“Mixing formula with dirty water would be deadly for babies. Breastfeeding babies even at the best of times, even when there is no disaster, is the best thing you could do for a baby. It is absolutely vital that women are supported to breastfeed their babies fully for six months.” On top of the not-enough-clean-water issue, donations of milk formula could discourage women from breastfeeding. Apparently, even in the wake of this tragedy, government, private hospitals and private organizations are set up to be able to accept donations of human milk. Dumalag goes on to say that all breast milk donations, “Will be pasteurized, frozen, and kept in insulated containers before they are sent to evacuation centers in central Philippines.” Right now it’s estimated that 12,000 babies will likely be born next month in typhoon hit areas, so getting enough breast milk donations is vital. However, keep in mind that breast milk donations are best obtained from locals in the actual typhoon hit areas, because donated breast milk from other countries discourages lactation advocacy efforts locally. If you’re in another country, don’t donate clothing, toys, formula or breast milk. If you’d like to help the very best thing you can send is money. Check out reputable organizations’ donation links below:

Photos by World Health Organization Philippines Annual Report