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

*Page updated August 14, 2020
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Your Voice is Needed:
Take Action to Protect Infant & Young Child Feeding in Emergencies

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Urge policymakers to take three swift actions to integrate infant and young child feeding into future emergency preparedness and response efforts with the "Tell Policymakers: Infant Feeding is a Vital Part of Emergency Preparedness & Response" action tool! 

Please take action and share widely with your networks!

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Pregnant and breastfeeding families, health care providers, and all public health stakeholders are urged to share stories about how the pandemic and pandemic response is impacting young families through the "How is the COVID-19 Pandemic Impacting Infant Feeding?" story tool. 

Your insights will help guide USBC's work to create a landscape of breastfeeding support, during this pandemic and beyond. There are options to share privately and anonymously.

Why is your action today so important? The COVID-19 pandemic has created seismic shifts in the infant and young child feeding landscape with dangerous compromises to the initiation and establishment of breastfeeding.

To document how breastfeeding families have been impacted, the USBC is publishing a series of documents titled "Voices from the Field: COVID-19 and Infant Feeding." These publications aim to demonstrate the impact of the pandemic and associated policy responses on the infant feeding experience. Stories shared privately with USBC are not included in public documents.

COVID-19 & Infant Feeding 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

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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!

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"

Resources from the Field

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

Kellymom:

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"

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"