If you’re an emergency planner, then you know that community resources can be in high demand during emergencies. Emergency planners need to take this demand into account to protect and save as many lives as possible. Here’s an element you may not have considered: breastfeeding is an invaluable asset in emergency planning.
In the US, most mothers breastfeed at some point, and this is great news for emergency planners. During an emergency, supporting mothers’ ability to keep breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to protect mothers’ and infants’ health and safety. Breastfeeding reliably protects infants from exposure to contaminated water and other unsanitary conditions, both of which are leading causes of infant death in emergencies.
In addition, breastfeeding regulates the infant’s body temperature and protects them against infections and illnesses that occur during periods of close proximity, eliminates reliance on formula and feeding bottle supplies, reduces maternal stress, and improves maternal coping ability. Stopping breastfeeding requires exposing infants to potentially contaminated water and feeding supplies and to feeds that may not be tolerated by the infant, and introduces risk of severe breast infection in the mother requiring antibiotic therapy.
The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding outlines 20 actions to improve breastfeeding support in the United States; many of these recommendations serve as excellent guides to help emergency planners address the barriers and limitations that could lead women to stop breastfeeding in emergencies. By taking these steps to help make sure mothers can continue breastfeeding during and after a disaster, emergency planners can save more mothers and babies’ lives and conserve finite community resources.
However, most babies are not breastfed exclusively by three months of age, and those who are not require careful planning, too. Parents need to be able to prepare formula and clean bottles without contaminated water and to be sure they have reliable access enough formula to meet their baby’s nutritional needs.
Has your community taken safe infant feeding into account when planning for an emergency?
Some strategies are:
Check out these resources on infant feeding during disasters:
Emergency management planners can lead their communities by increasing support and awareness of breastfeeding during emergencies by implementing the action steps above. We urge you to think of other ways that you can support breastfeeding mothers in emergencies and share your ideas in a comment to this blog post.
ASPR would like to extend a special thanks to all of the experts who contributed to the development of this blog post, including those from HHS Office of Children and Families; HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health; and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.