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Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies

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Key Facts about Breastfeeding & 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 “relactation”).
  • 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, Tools, & Materials

Webinar Spotlight from USBC

  • Infant and Young Child Feeding During Emergencies (IYCFE) - Katherine Shealy, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Aunchalee Palmquist, Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute, UNC-Gillings School of Public Health, Felisha Floyd, National Association of Professional and Peer Lactation Supporters of Color (NAPPLSC), Lourdes Santaballa, Executive Director, IBCLC, IYCFS at Alimentación Segura Infantil (ASI), and Tracy Erickson, Texas Department of Health Services, WIC Program
    • This webinar presentation explored the importance of infant and young child feeding during natural disasters and emergencies, as well as the role of federal, state, and local agencies and communities in disaster preparedness, mitigation, and response. Panelists discussed strategies to protect and support breastfeeding, and promote safe feeding when breastfeeding is not possible. This webinar included resources to help coalitions and organizations build capacity to coordinate support and be active stakeholders to protect the health of infants and young children in emergencies.