Infant Feeding in Emergencies

 Breastfeeding remains the best infant feeding option in a disaster situation. Breastmilk helps protect babies from diseases such as diarrhoea, respiratory infections and provides the calories and nutrients babies need. This protection is especially important during natural disasters when contaminated water and unsanitary environments can increase the risk of disease.

During emergencies (such as earthquakes, conflict or floods), children are especially vulnerable to malnutrition, illness and death.

Breastfeeding plays a vital role in emergencies, protecting infant and young child survival, health and development, as well as maternal health and the bonding between mother and baby, so precious in difficult situations. However, major problems are often experienced with infant feeding, increasing the risk of malnutrition and death in this vulnerable age group.

Health and nutrition workers may know the value of breastfeeding and the difficulty of artificial feeding in such circumstances, but not skilled in lactation management. They are likely to be supporting women who are so weak and malnourished that they seem unable to produce milk, or who have lost confidence in their ability to breastfeed. Other women, who never breastfed their infants but have been feeding with breastmilk substitutes before the emergency, may now be facing the task with limited resources, in a far more difficult environment.