USBC Urges Support of Breastfeeding in Emergencies

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - August 31, 2008

Washington, DC—As the Southeast prepares for Hurricane Gustav and other potential storms during hurricane season, the United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC), a coalition of more than 40 organizations, including government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and health professional organizations, has issued a call to support breastfeeding mothers in their decision to give their infant the healthiest start in life possible.

USBC Chair Joan Younger Meek, MD, MS, RD, FAAP, FABM, IBCLC, affirms that breastfeeding is the most important way to protect infants from a host of significant health concerns and is therefore especially critical in emergency situations where safe and sanitary water is not available, transportation is limited, and disease abounds.

“Research is clear,” says Dr. Meek, “that even in the best of situations breastfeeding helps protect infants from illnesses such as ear infections, respiratory infections, and diarrhea. In emergency situations, the safety net that breastfeeding provides to babies is profound. Research shows that infants are the most vulnerable in an emergency, and are most likely to develop diarrhea and other illnesses and infections that can be life-threatening. Babies who are breastfed receive a safe, reliable food source that is full of anti-infective properties to protect them from these diseases. Breastfeeding makes a significant difference.”

The USBC urges 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. The USBC further encourages health care and emergency relief workers 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. Women who chose not to breastfeed can be helped with “relactation” to bring in milk production, if desired. Both the International Lactation Consultant Association (www.ilca.org) and La Leche League International (www.llli.org) provide knowledgeable support personnel. Physicians from the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine and the American Academy of Pediatrics can also offer needed assistance to induce or continue lactation.

For more information about infant and young child feeding in emergencies, visit www.usbreastfeeding.org/Issue-Papers/Emergency.pdf. In addition, the USBC has published an issue paper, “Benefits of Breastfeeding,” available at www.usbreastfeeding.org/publications.html. The paper provides documented evidence of the importance of breastfeeding to the health of infants and mothers alike. The American Academy of Pediatrics (www.aap.org) and the Emergency Nutrition Network (www.ennonline.org) provide detailed guidance on appropriate infant feeding in an emergency.

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