Breastfeeding is the First Line of Defense for Safe Infant Feeding During Emergencies

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - August 26, 2011

Washington, DC—As the East Coast prepares for Hurricane Irene and other natural disasters such as earthquakes, the United States Breastfeeding Committee (USBC)—a coalition of more than 40 national organizations, including government agencies and health professional associations—reminds the public and emergency responders that infants and children are especially vulnerable and need special consideration during emergencies. Medical experts recommend inclusion of the protection, promotion, and support of breastfeeding and safe infant/young child feeding in emergency preparedness policies and practices.

USBC has issued a Statement on Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies for immediate incorporation into federal, state, and local policy. This statement closes a gap in emergency preparedness, response, and recovery planning for infants and children. Recommendations are made to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding as the safest form of infant nutrition during emergencies. The statement also provides essential information and guidelines for the care and protection of mothers and children facing natural or man-made disasters.

Breastfeeding provides not only the safest source of nutrition, but also protection against the many prevalent infections that occur, including the devastating diarrhea that accompanies poor sanitation and crowded shelter conditions. By keeping infants close, breastfeeding provides comfort, care, and security for the mother-child pair.

"In emergency situations, breastfeeding provides a critical safety net," says USBC Chair Jeanne Blankenship, MS, RD. "Research shows that infants are the most vulnerable in an emergency. Babies who are breastfed receive a safe, reliable food source that is full of anti-infective properties to protect them from disease."

The United States Breastfeeding Committee calls on all health care and emergency relief workers to assist women to breastfeed their infants during emergencies. USBC further urges prompt implementation of appropriate training and education for emergency preparedness and response workers on the support of breastfeeding.

This can include measures as simple as providing a safe, semi-private area for women to breastfeed and receive counseling and peer support in large shelter environments, and helping women access the support of skilled lactation care providers on the emergency response team. The USBC statement includes additional guidelines; further information and resources on infant and young child feeding in emergencies can be found at www.usbreastfeeding.org/emergencies.

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