Northern France Refugee Infant Feeding Team

By Lindsey Middlemiss

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Refugees can be parents too

Having a new baby can be hard enough in your own home with all the support of the NHS, friends and family. It's not unusual for parents to have concerns and struggles around infant feeding, and to take a while to adjust to life with a baby. Now imagine having a new baby in a single room wooden shack or tent. No comfort, no proper bed, no kitchen of your own, food being scarce. No friendly midwife or health visitor checking up on you. No breastfeeding drop-ins. No postnatal support groups. No family bringing round food and helping you. The impact of the normal concerns and issues of new parents are multiplied by the circumstances you find yourself in.

Babies and young children are the most vulnerable refugees

In any emergency or refugee camp situation, it is the very youngest who are the most vulnerable. Feeding babies and young children safely in these circumstances can be very challenging. Simple aspects of parenting, such as having someone to ask about your concerns or cleaning baby bottles can be impossible. And how babies and young children are fed can be the difference between health and illness, even life and death.

This is the reality for families just over the British border in northern France. There are thousands of refugees and destitute migrants, many families. Babies are born to mothers living in refugee camps there.

An infant feeding team for Dunkirk and Calais...and beyond?

We have set up a voluntary Infant Feeding Team and have been working in the camps in Dunkirk and Calais for some months.

Our teams have been providing lay volunteers with basic training in Infant Feeding in Emergencies, carrying out carry assessments of need across the camps, helping warehousing and distribution sites organise themselves to better promote safe feeding, carrying out individual feeding assessments so that families get the support they need, support those mothers who are breastfeeding to continue to safely feed their babies and encouraging those families that are not exclusively breastfeed to use safer feeding practices.

Our team is a small group of breastfeeding counsellors and La Leche League leaders, supported by doulas and peer supporters, who have all done additional training in Infant Feeding in Emergencies and who volunteer their time to help. Some based in England, some in France (it takes longer to get to Calais from Paris than from London!).

We have also been supporting women's centres to safely provide what is needed for those babies who are not fully breastfed and enable them to work better as a place of refuge in camp.

As the needs change, with the demolition of the Calais Jungle and the changing management of other camps like Dunkirk, as well as the continuing arrivals in Europe, we are looking to whether our support is also needed elsewhere in northern France.

The ongoing refugee crisis across Europe has stretched many organisations to the extreme, and there has been no proper provision of specialist support for infant feeding in emergencies in France, which is why we're asking our international community to support this grass roots effort.

Our team will mean more families are supported to safely feed their babies, and fewer babies and children are necessarily put at risk.

You can join us

We need money to support the Refugee Infant Feeding Team for northern France and enable us to expand what we do. We need money to help pay for travel costs and for basic accommodation for our team, so we can have volunteers where they are needed on a regular basis. We need money to ensure we can help provide what families need to safely feed their babies, such as easily cleanable cups for those babies who aren't breastfed, in place of dirty bottles it is impossible to clean.

Every little contribution helps enormously. £5 pays for durable cups for 30 children. £24 pays for a nights (very basic!) accommodation for a specialist volunteer.

Please help. This is families in desperate need, just over the British border. We can and will support them better.

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Team Members

Lindsey Middlemiss