Breastfeeding and Emergencies
Key Facts about Breastfeeding in Emergencies
Emergencies often occur when least expected, and sometimes when we are least prepared. They can include a wide range of unsettling events, including personal or family crises, public health emergencies (such as a flu pandemic), acts of terror and violence, and natural disasters or weather-related events (such as floods and blizzards).
Research shows that infants and children are the most vulnerable during emergencies.
- Nearly 95% of infant and child deaths in emergencies result from diarrhea due to contaminated water and an unsanitary environment.
- Infant formula has been linked to an increase in infant disease and death: it can also be contaminated and requires clean water and fuel to sterilize formula, bottles, and nipples. Lack of electricity also can make it difficult to preserve formula.
- Breastfeeding saves lives! Human milk is always clean, requires no fuel, water, or electricity, and is available, even in the direst circumstances.
- Human milk contains antibodies that fight infection, including diarrhea and respiratory infections common among infants in emergency situations.
- Human milk provides infants with perfect nutrition, including the proper amount of vitamins and minerals required for normal growth.
- Breastfeeding releases hormones that lower stress and anxiety in both babies and mothers.
- Mothers who breastfeed are able to keep their babies warm to prevent hypothermia.
Mothers can breastfeed in an emergency!
- The safest food in an emergency is the mother’s own milk. Donor human milk is the next best option. Mothers who cannot directly feed their babies can also be supported to express their milk.
- Women who are stressed can continue to make milk. A quiet area that helps mothers relax can help their milk flow to the baby.
- Malnourished mothers can make plenty of milk.
- Even mothers who have already discontinued breastfeeding may be able to restart breastfeeding (known as
- If a baby (or mother) becomes ill, the best thing the mother can do is to continue breastfeeding to provide her baby with human antibodies that fight the illness.
- Support makes the difference!
Resources on Breastfeeding and Emergencies
American Academy of Pediatrics Flyer: "Infant Nutrition During a Disaster: Breastfeeding and Other Options"
Emergency Nutrition Network Website: "Infant Feeding in Emergencies (IFE) Core Group"
International Lactation Consultant Association Website: "Breastfeeding in Emergencies"
La Leche League International Website: "Resources for Breastfeeding During Emergencies"
World Breastfeeding Week 2009 Website: "Breastfeeding: A Vital Emergency Response. Are you ready?"
World Health Organization Website: "Child and adolescent health and development, documents on emergencies"
WHO / UNICEF / WFP Joint Statement: "Call for support for appropriate infant and young child feeding in Haiti"
The chart below provides a compilation of resources from several key national agencies and organizations (columns), organized by type of emergency (rows). See below the chart for descriptions of the sources.
Ready.gov is a national public service advertising (PSA) campaign designed to educate and empower Americans to prepare for and respond to emergencies including natural and man-made disasters. The goal of the campaign is to get the public involved and ultimately to increase the level of basic preparedness across the nation. Ready.gov offers information and resources on what you can do to prepare for, react to, and recover from different types of emergencies.
The Lessons Learned Information Sharing (LLIS.gov) is a Department of Homeland Security, Federal Emergency Management Agency program. LLIS.gov serves as the national, online network of lessons learned, best practices, and innovative ideas for the emergency management and homeland security communities. This information and collaboration resource helps emergency response providers and homeland security officials prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and other emergencies.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN), funded by the Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, works to raise the standard of care and improve access to services for traumatized children, their families and communities.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is an organization of more than 60,000 pediatricians committed to the attainment of optimal physical, mental, and social health and well-being for all infants, children, adolescents, and young adults. The AAP Disaster Preparedness Advisory Council has created a website to ensure that all pediatricians and other health professionals, parents, caregivers and teachers, policymakers, and communities have the information they need when they need it.
Shelter During and After an Emergency
Ready.gov offers information and resources on taking shelter in an emergency. The safest locations to seek shelter vary by hazard. Be informed about the sheltering suggestions for each hazard. There may be situations, depending on your circumstances and the nature of the disaster, when it's best to shelter in place. Search for open mass care shelters by texting SHELTER and a zip code to 43362 (4FEMA). Ex: Shelter 01234 (standard rates apply).
The American Red Cross responds to approximately 70,000 disasters in the United States every year, providing shelter, food, health, and mental health services to help families and communities get back on their feet. Use their tools to search for the closest open shelter during an emergency, and to register or search the Safe and Well listings.
Additional Recovery Resources
Ready.gov provides advice on steps to take to recover from a disaster and begin getting your home, your community, and your life back to normal, including: health and safety guidelines, returning home, seeking disaster assistance, coping with disaster, and helping others.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Disaster Distress Helpline provides 24/7, year-round crisis counseling and support. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text "TalkWithUs" to 66746.
Resources on Talking with Children / Helping Children Cope
The National Association of School Psychologists has published informational flyers to help families and educators react to violence.
- "Talking to Children About Violence: Tips for Parents and Teachers"
- "Helping Children Cope with Terrorism: Tips for Families and Educators"
Save the Children offers resources to assist parents, teachers, grandparents, and other caregivers on how to help children cope with a crisis.