Breast milk is saving the lives of refugee children. Here's how.


Jamie Grumet is about to board a flight to Turkey. But this is not a vacation.

Jamie is a mom of two living in California, and she’s a big advocate for global health — especially the health of mothers. There’s a good chance you may have seen her before. 

A photo of Jamie breastfeeding her then-3-year-old son Aram on the cover of Time magazine went viral a few years ago. 

Jamie, pictured here with her son Aram, is a big advocate for breastfeeding because she believes it saves lives. Photo from Lori Dorman, used with permission.

Jamie works with the nonprofit Nurture Tomorrow that focuses on global health. She’s visiting Turkey to focus her energy on the refugee crisis.

“If you can support a mother, then you can support the entire community,” Jamie told Upworthy. “One way to do that is to help with their infants’ food security.” 

Children under 5 make up as much as 20% of refugee populations. Unfortunately, many of them die from malnutrition. Jamie feels this is a huge problem that can be prevented.

“When you provide children with sanitary, nutritious foods and hydration, you are removing many health concerns that kill young children,” Jamie said. “Breastfeeding provides that.”

Here are three important factors Jamie focuses on as part of her work with Nurture Tomorrow:

1. Breastfeeding is more reliable and safer than formula in places like refugee camps where clean water is scarce.

Donating formula to refugee camps sounds good in theory, and it’s a question Jamie fields often. But according to anthropologist Bridget McGann, it’s much more complicated than one might think. 

“Powdered formula is not sterile and can harbor bacteria that may be harmful to infants, even in the best of conditions,” Bridget told Upworthy. “Access to clean water in the camps is inconsistent, and mixing formula with contaminated water can cause serious illness.” 

Clean water is not easy to come by in refugee areas. Photo by Jade Beall Photography 2015, used with permission.

We all know that babies in America who use formula will be just fine. For refugee children, the reality is that access to human milk can make the difference between those who survive and those who don’t.

“As long as breastfeeding parents have enough food and water to sustain themselves, the child will have safe and clean food at all times,” Bridget said.  

2. Stress and lack of privacy may make breastfeeding difficult. So Jamie and the folks at Nurture Tomorrow are building safe spaces to help.

When it’s time to breastfeed, the mother’s body begins the let-down process, which releases milk to the baby. In stressful situations, it can be difficult for a mother’s body to begin that process. And sadly, stress is way of life for many refugee moms. 

“Breast milk production is controlled by a different hormone than the release of it,” Bridget said. “If they believe that they aren’t producing milk due the stress around them, they will stop breastfeeding and the milk supply will dry up.” 

Moms feeling safe and comfortable helps with breastfeeding. Photo by Jade Beall Photography 2015, used with permission.

To that end, Jamie is trying to build facilities where refugee moms can breastfeed in comfort and privacy while getting the support and care they need. 

3. In a stressful environment like a refugee camp, there can be additional physical and emotional benefits for breastfeeding mothers and their children.

“In America, breast versus bottle is just another battle in the ‘mommy wars,'” she said. “But this isn’t some silly debate topic. For refugee babies, breast milk can mean the difference between life or death.”

As tumultuous as life can be for a refugee mom, it’s also quite stressful for their babies — but breastfeeding helps fight the everyday trauma.  

Other than nutrition, babies benefit emotionally from breastfeeding. Photo by Jade Beall Photography 2015, used with permission.

“Having the mother’s body as a home base as a place of comfort, nourishment, and safety helps infants cope with the stress around them,” Jamie said. 

It’s so easy to focus on what’s going on in our own lives. Thanks to people like Jamie, Bridget, and others for showing us that there’s a lot more we should be paying attention to.

It’s time to pay better attention to the world around us. Photo by Jade Beall Photography 2015, used with permission.



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