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Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies, including COVID-19*

*Page updated July 23, 2020


Key Facts about Breastfeeding and 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). Jump to general information about breastfeeding and emergencies.

COVID-19 Resources

U.S. Breastfeeding Committee Action Opportunities: 

  • Pregnant and breastfeeding families, health care providers, and all public health stakeholders are invited to share stories about how the pandemic and pandemic response is impacting infant feeding experiences through the "How is the COVID-19 Pandemic Impacting Infant Feeding?" story tool. Stories will be shared without any identifying information. There are options to share privately and anonymously.

  • Organizations are invited to sign on to a joint letter urging members of Congress to support supplemental funding for infant and young child feeding in emergencies. The joint letter urges Congress to include $10 million for infant and young child feeding in the fourth Congressional COVID-19 response package to support the breastfeeding field to deliver lactation support services in the context of restraints imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Organizational signers will be added to the letter on a rolling basis. 

U.S. Breastfeeding Committee Resources:

COVID-19 Interim Guidance for Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies:

Resources for Families:

Resources for Health Care Providers, Lactation Support Providers, and Administrators:

Resources for Public Health Workforce and Advocates:

General Information

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!

USBC Resources

Position Statement: "Statement on Infant/Young Child Feeding in Emergencies"

Racial Equity Webinar: "Infant and Young Child Feeding During Emergencies (IYCFE)"

2018 National Breastfeeding Coalition Convening Presentation: "Adapting the Models of Prevention to Address Lactation and Safe Infant Feeding in Emergencies in Puerto Rico"

Additional Resources

1,000 Days: "5 Things You Need to Know About Breastfeeding in Emergencies"

American Academy of Pediatrics Flyer: "Infant Nutrition in Disasters and Other Emergencies: Breastfeeding and Other Options"

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Interagency Working Group on Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies: "Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies Operational Guidance for Emergency Relief Staff and Programme Managers

International Lactation Consultant Association:

Kansas Breastfeeding Coalition


La Leche League International Website: "Infant Feeding In Emergencies (Multilingual)"

National Association of Professional and Peer Lactation Supporters of Color: "Statement on Infant Feeding During Disasters"

Office of Human Services Emergency Preparedness and Response: "Infant Feeding During Disasters"

Save the Children: "IYCF-E Toolkit"

U.S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service: "Special Supplemental Nutrition Program For Women, Infants, And Children (WIC): Guide To Coordinating WIC Services During Disaster"

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"

Resources on Talking with Children / Helping Children Cope

American Academy of Pediatrics: "Promoting Adjustment and Helping Children Cope

National Association of School Psychologists: "School Climate, Safety, and Crisis"

National Child Traumatic Stress Network: "Parent/Caregiver Guide to Helping Families Cope with the Coronavirus Disease 2019"

Save the Children: "10 Tips for Helping Children Cope with Disaster

Resources on Different Types of Emergencies

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. National Child Traumatic Stress Network American Academy of Pediatrics
 Biological  Pandemics  Epidemics  Anthrax
 Earthquakes  Earthquakes  Earthquakes  Earthquakes
 Floods  Floods  Floods  Flash Floods/Flood Recovery
 Fires  Wildfires  Wildfires  Wildfires
 Hurricanes  Hurricanes  Hurricanes  Hurricanes
 Tornadoes  Tornadoes  Tornadoes  
 Other Weather
 Extreme Heat
 Severe Weather
 Thunderstorms & Lightning
 Winter Storms & Extreme Cold
   Extreme Temperatures: Heat and Cold
 Violence  School Personnel
 Terrorism   Bioterrorism
  Chemical Emergencies
 Terrorism and Violence  Terrorism & Agents
 Blast Terrorism and Explosions
 Other  Power Outages
 Hazardous Materials
 Household Chemical Emergencies
 Landslides & Debris Flow
 Nuclear Power Plants
 Space Weather
 Tsunamis  Financial Crisis

Shelter During and After an Emergency 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.

Recovery Resources 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 American Red Cross has Recovery Guides on more than 20 types of emergencies.

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.