In War Zones, Mothers Need a Safe Alternative to Breast Milk

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A nurse examines a malnourished 6-month-old girl in MSF’s Qayyarah Hospital in Mosul, Iraq. Photo by SUHAIB SALEM/REUTERS

  “It isn’t a problem of access to food. The malnutrition we see here is primarily due to the scarcity of infant formula,” wrote Manuel Lannaud, MSF’s country director for the organization’s projects in Iraq. “International organizations like UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) promote breastfeeding … and provide infant formula, but only by prescription. We believe that distributing infant formula in a conflict situation like Iraq is the only way to avoid children having to be hospitalized for malnutrition.”

The writer Gayle Tzemach Lemmon reports on the complex problem of providing for babies in wartime in “Don’t Make Babies Rely on Breast Milk in War Zones” on

It’s a problem MSF field workers are grappling with as large numbers of malnourished babies arrive at hospitals and clinics around Mosul and other conflict zones. The tiny patients are often brought by mothers stressed or traumatized by trying to survive and keep their children alive in the midst of deadly violence.

While MSF agrees that breastfeeding is best, aid workers on the front lines say there needs to be flexibility in how humanitarian organizations respond to malnutrition, especially in conflict zones. Read the article on

MSF has treated more than 300 babies for malnutrition in Qayyara, Iraq, since March, most of them under 6 months old. Many of these sick infants arrived with families fleeing the besieged part of western Mosul. Their mothers have often been unable to breastfeed due to the trauma and living conditions they’ve endured, and in western Mosul there is little access to formula or health care.

Read Iraq: Babies Suffering from Severe Malnutrition in Mosul Region

  #tomorrowneedsher #womenshealth Because Tomorrow Needs Her focuses on some of the impediments to women’s health, exposing injustices that disproportionately affect women and girls around the world.