World Breastfeeding Week 2009: Breastfeeding: A Vital Emergency Response


Washington, DC—During the first week of August, the United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC) proudly joins organizations from more than 120 countries to celebrate World Breastfeeding Week. The theme of World Breastfeeding Week 2009 is Breastfeeding: A Vital Emergency Response. Are You Ready? This year’s focus aims to draw attention to the vital role that breastfeeding plays in emergencies worldwide and to stress the need for active protection and support of breastfeeding before and during emergencies.

USBC Chair Joan Younger Meek, MD, MS, RD, IBCLC, affirms that breastfeeding is the most important way to protect infants from a host of significant acute and chronic diseases and is therefore especially critical in emergency situations where electricity, fuel, and clean water are not available and risk of disease is high. “Research is clear,” says Dr. Meek, “that even under ideal circumstances breastfeeding helps protect infants from illnesses such as ear infections, respiratory infections, and diarrhea. Infants and children are especially vulnerable in an emergency—nearly 95% of infant and child deaths in emergencies result from diarrhea due to contaminated water and an unsanitary environment. Breastfed babies receive a healthy, reliable food source full of antibodies—properties that provide protection from disease. Breast milk is the safest and most convenient food in an emergency.”

USBC encourages all mothers who are currently breastfeeding to continue for as long as possible to protect their infants from infection and disease, and strongly encourages pregnant women to breastfeed once their infant is born. Health care providers and emergency relief workers are urged to assist women to continue breastfeeding their infants during emergencies.

According to Meek, this can include measures as simple as providing a safe and private area for women to breastfeed and receive counseling in large shelter environments, and helping women access the support of lactation consultants and other breastfeeding experts in the community. Physicians, lactation consultants, or other trained health care workers can help women who chose not to breastfeed or who have stopped breastfeeding to re-establish milk production, if desired.

USBC has published a document with further information and resources for relief organizations, health care workers, and communities. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Emergency Nutrition Network also provide detailed guidance on appropriate infant feeding in an emergency.

For more information on World Breastfeeding Week, visit the WBW Web site. For more information about breastfeeding, visit The National Women’s Health Information Center. To locate health care providers and knowledgeable breastfeeding support personnel that can offer assistance and answer questions about breastfeeding, visit the FAQs page on the USBC Web site.

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