Estonian Childbirth and Breastfeeding Support Society: "Using artificial formula is a risk to the child’s health when he/she is still a baby as well as later on."


What does the Estonian Childbirth and Breastfeeding Support Society do?

The Estonian Childbirth and Breastfeeding Support Society (SIET) has 55 trained breastfeeding counsellors, who are there to help mothers and babies struggling with breastfeeding. SIET’s counsellors are the only ones in Estonia who will visit the family at their home if necessary, and they also teach group lessons in Tallinn, Pirita, Keila, Nõmme, Lihula, Linnamäe and Hiiumaa.

In 2015, SIET’s counsellors helped 580 babies in total and there were 122 hours of lectures. In October and November 2015, 73 families were counselled using the money raised via the Donation Environment. In the first three months of 2016, the money raised via the Donation Environment was used for three lectures delivered to the support group and for counselling 16 families.

Why is it important to draw attention to your topic? 

Breast milk is the only correct food for a baby and every baby has the right to receive mother’s milk irrespective of where the family lives or how well they’re doing. The success of breastfeeding depends on the information, support and help given to mothers. Not all children know how to latch on straightaway and not all mothers know how to breastfeed without advice.
The recommendations of the World Health Organisation in the interests of the health of mothers and babies are clear: breastfeeding a baby starts in the first hour of life, breast milk is the only food the baby gets for the first six months and breastfeeding should also continue in the second year of the child’s life or even longer.

According to the survey carried out by the National Institute for Health Development in 2014, 88.7% of mothers in Estonia started breastfeeding after childbirth, but the percentage of babies who were breastfed had dropped to 79.4% after four weeks, 65.8% after three months and only 34.9% after six months. Mothers mention lack of knowledge and support as the reason why they stopped breastfeeding.

A mother’s milk is irreplaceable. The formulas produced in factories that are mixed with water are artificial food like tinned food or instant mashed potatoes, and they are no substitutes for clean water and fresh homemade food for adults. Using artificial formula is a risk to the child’s health when he/she is still a baby as well as later on. Formulas should be the absolute last option when there is really no other way. Also, in addition to the health risks, we should also talk about money when comparing mother’s milk and formula. Families pay quite large amounts of money to big corporations. Depending on the formula and the child’s age, the average amount spent on formula per month is 50-100 euros. It would make a lot more sense to support mothers instead and encourage them to breastfeed. The money will stay in the family and can be used in another manner that benefits well-being, health and development.

What is the most recent activity or event that has taken place with the help of donors?

The support of donors has helped SIET’s counsellors deliver lectures in NGO Caritas, which is the meeting place for underage mothers. Four lectures in total were delivered to the young mothers.

The help of donors also comes in handy when the project support financed from the gambling tax has run out and the new support has not started coming in yet – some counsellors then work as volunteers, but donations help us to compensate the work of the counsellors or at least pay their travelling expenses.

What is your view on the present donation culture in Estonia? Can donors tell the difference between capable and less capable organisations, or is donating something emotional? 

Donating is not widespread in Estonia; it’s a bit unusual and non-customary for people here. However, the number of regular donors is growing. People usually donate on the back of the events they or their loved ones have gone through, whether such concerns were related to health or money. People also tend to donate to the organisations that are known as fund-raisers – the foundations of big hospitals and other larger organisations that are able to organise extensive media campaigns. They don’t know about the smaller organisations that also do valuable work, but are often not that well known or found, because they do not stand out in the overall media coverage.

What is the most valuable gift ever made to your organisation?

Valuable is a rather relative term. No material gifts, other than donations, have been made to our organisation. We want to be noticed, recognised and supported at state level – constructive and consistent cooperation with the state and maternity hospitals. Of course, the feedback received from mothers and fathers is also emotionally valuable for us – tears of joy, words and letters of gratitude – they motivate us to carry on. It is a special joy when a mother who received help from us wants to join us as a breastfeeding counsellor. We are also happy when a mother makes a larger donation to the organisation after the counsellor’s visit. However, the best gift of all is when a mother writes to us after a difficult start to breastfeeding to say that working with a counsellor helped her overcome a seemingly hopeless situation, and the mother and baby are enjoying the natural feeding process just like it should be.

How much do you need volunteers?

As our client base, i.e. babies, are not very talkative and their mothers are busy waiting for them to start talking, and the leaders of our society are busy with their day jobs, families and counsellors, then what we really lack is marketing. We need advice and assistance in taking information about our counsellors, the irreplaceable value of mother’s milk and the importance of breastfeeding to every family expecting or feeding a baby. You never know when someone might need our advice and assistance. We’ve been dreaming about calendars that introduce breastfeeding, but we don’t have the time or skills to do it; we’re dreaming about being as well-known as the Children’s Hospital Foundation or SOS Children’s Village, who also look after the weakest members of society.

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