Keep Breastfeeding: Supporting Mothers After Natural Disasters
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 41 No. 2, April-May 2005, pp. 38-39.
On the evening of October 23, 2004, the Niigata-Chuetsu area in Japan was hit by strong earthquakes of magnitude six to seven. There were some casualties caused by landslides, collapse of houses and buildings, or from shock. There were repeated aftershocks, and people who had no access to water or electricity had to evacuate their homes. Some breastfeeding mothers were among them.
Only three days before the earthquakes, there had been a bad flood after a typhoon in the city of Toyo-oka in Hyogo prefecture. At that time, the local health center and some Japanese LLL Leaders were working together, with Leaders volunteering to receive phone calls from mothers in the flood area. That experience led LLL Japan to set up a special counseling service for mothers in the earthquake area. More than 30 LLL Leaders in Japan were eager to offer their help by responding to emails and phone calls. Mothers' common concerns were insufficient milk supply and inhibited let-down. Some mothers had no more milk coming out of their breasts. Some were simply scared of the continuing tremors. As well as offering counseling services, LLL Japan immediately published a statement to offer encouragement to breastfeeding mothers suffering from the extreme stress. The persistent message from LLL Japan was to "Keep breastfeeding."
LLL Japan also collaborated with two other Japanese breastfeeding support organizations, JALC (Japanese Association of Lactation Consultants) and BSN Japan (Breastfeeding Support Network of Japan), and they quickly established a special committee called Supporting Mothers and Children Under the Stress of Natural Disasters. They reacted very swiftly to mothers' urgent needs. Many LLL Leaders who had already been offering counseling service joined the committee to offer more help. Chisato Hikichi of LLL Sapporo shared her story with me:
All day long I carried a prepaid mobile phone, which the committee gave to me. I accepted calls from 9 am to 9 pm. I also received emails and forwarded them to Leaders all over Japan. I am so honored that I was able to offer my help this way.
Committee members exchanged more than a hundred emails within 24 hours. After intense discussion that lasted day and night, the committee published a joint communiqué and the "Guidelines for Breastfeeding Counsellors." These publications had a very positive effect. They helped mothers as well as society to realize how important it is to continue breastfeeding, especially after natural disasters.
It was very heartwarming to see LLL Leaders and health care professionals working together to write the publications. The information was accurate, and the tone of the writing was warm and encouraging. After conscientious proofreading, pamphlets and information sheets were on the way to the disaster areas. They were distributed to mothers as well as to the press, government, and hospitals.
Hiroko Hongo of LLL Toshima is involved in all three organizations mentioned above and she played an important role in coordinating the committee. Hiroko writes:
Many Leaders volunteered as soon as I asked them for help. Each did as much as she could. Some did counseling and some rushed around to get the publications ready. One Leader made the LLL press release available on our Web site and created a separate site that mothers could access even from mobile phones. To some mothers in the disaster areas, mobile phones were the only way of acquiring information. It was the wonderful womanly art of coordinating!
Some places are geographically more vulnerable than others to natural disasters such as typhoons and earthquakes. Therefore, some people may be better prepared for the damages caused by them. However, there is nothing that human beings can do to prevent natural disasters.
People who lose loved ones and homes often experience many emotions and high stress levels. It can be difficult finding solutions or facing the situation. What makes a difference is immediate and adequate support to those who have to cope.
LLL Leaders offer helpful information as well as emotional support with warm reassurance. These basic Leader skills are so vital for mothers under the extreme stress of natural disasters. The devoted Leaders of Japan who volunteered to help those mothers should be very proud of what they accomplished.
LLL Leaders Who Volunteered
(LLL of Bay Area, USA)
(LLL Milkyway, USA)
Toshi Jolliffe lives in Heisdorf, Luxembourg with her husband, Michael, and their three children: Hikaru (16), Kaori (12), and Seiji (9). She organized the local Japanese LLL Group, is the Associate Coordinator of Leader Accreditation for the US Western Division, and serves as the translator for the Leader Accreditation Department of Japan. She also translates LLL documents and letters into Japanese. Toshi writes, "It is always my pleasure to introduce what Japanese Leaders do and how they do it."