• Helping refugees to feed their infants. (Photo credit. Gabriel Sainhas) (Facebook)Source: Facebook
Meet the infant feeding specialist helping new mums in Greece's migrant camps.
Sarah Norton

SBS Life
5 May 2016 - 1:39 PM  UPDATED 5 May 2016 - 1:40 PM

Many women struggle with breastfeeding, but fortunately there are many services in Australia to help mums feed their infants. But for many mums living in tents in the midst of a refugee crisis information and support are scarce, if accessible at all.

So one woman, Brooke Bauer is dedicating her life to ensuring women in crisis get the support they deserve by helping refugee mums feed their infants while living in tent settlements.

Bauer founded the Nurture Project International organisation in March this year. Having worked in infant feeding support in the Middle East for many years, Bauer spoke to a friend working in Greece. Bauer was asked to join a group focused on providing infant feeding support for refugees however, it was an online service with no one formally in the field. The more she looked into it, the more Bauer realised there was a need for volunteers on the ground.

She recruited some friends to go to Greece as an infant feeding team. From there she came up with the idea to create Nurture Project International to help support women breastfeed. The situation where Bauer works, near Idomeni in Greece, is dire.

"The lack of basic human rights in so much of this crisis is mind numbing," she tells SBS.

According to Bauer, refugee children face huge health consequences from malnutrition, unsanitary conditions and poverty. During emergency situations the rates of disease and death among children under five years of age is higher than any other age group.

"Infants are the highest risk. The younger the baby the bigger the risk," she explains.

Her website says, "The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that in emergency situations babies who are artificially fed have a 1300% increased risk of death from diarrhoeal disease as compared to babies that are breastfed."

The unhygienic environment is one of the main incentives for encouraging refugee mothers to breastfeed. "Diseases flourish in unsanitary conditions that are seen in transit camps and detention centres and the clean water and equipment required for safe artificial feeding can be difficult to find."

Bauer warns even donations need to be treated with caution. “When looking to donate items it is important for everyone to understand that donation of bottles, infant formula, and pacifiers is very dangerous and should actively be discouraged,” she says. 

Many women that Bauer works with do breastfeed, but some have bottlefed since their babies were born while others do a mixture of both breast and bottlefeeding.

"We support all mothers but it is the mothers who are doing a mixture that our team works really hard to support so that they can build up their milk supply to exclusively breastfeed," she says.

It is these mothers, Bauer explains, who are often seeing their children get very sick but they don't know how to increase their milk supply. This is where the volunteers come in to assist.

"These mothers are caring for their newborns in dire conditions with little support available. So we are there to do anything that we can," she says.

"If I ever stand back and think of the enormity of the crisis and the complexity of the situation and the trauma that the refugees have experienced it stops me in my tracks," Bauer says.

"All I can do is keep moving forward, doing what I know to best support the families. We ask what they need and how we can best support them with regards to their babies and then adapt our programs to fill these needs."

Bauer has worked in international public health for the past 10 years. She is a mother herself to four children and is a certified breastfeeding counsellor, certified doula and a childbirth educator. She has been working with mothers locally in the Middle East - where she lives - for the past five years.

"When I heard about the crisis [in Greece] I just couldn't sit back and do nothing," she says.

Bauer knew that infant feeding in a crisis is a core humanitarian principal that is often overlooked. Her organisation does far more than just infant feeding support too. They provide psychosocial support, targeted clothing distribution, prenatal support, attend births, they provide baby hygiene stations where babies can be washed and a nappy changing station. 

Bauer and her organisation are changing the lives of many mums living in refugee crisis, and are saving the lives of their infants too.