Breastfeeding in Emergencies

The recent earthquake in Haiti has a lot of people thinking about emergency preparedness. This is something I’ve begun working on with my family this past year. I have an emergency car kit and we have a 3-day emergency kit in the home, ready in case we need to evacuate quickly.
As a mother, what are your best options for taking care of your infants in an emergency? Breastfeeding can truly be life-saving in these instances. During an emergency, breastfeeding can provide your baby with life-giving water, nutrients and protection from disease during this stressful time. Breastfeeding can protect infants from diarrhea, pneumonia, and malnutrition. Some feel during a time of emergency a mother needs to quit breastfeeding to preserve her own strength. Despite a mother’s lack of nutrition and additional stress, she can still be successful at breastfeeding her child. The best way to ensure the child has good nutrition is to feed the breastfeeding mother and keep her as hydrated as possible.
In harsh emergency situations, children have an extra need to fight infection and disease. Children that are NOT breastfed are three times more likely to require hospitalization due to infection or illness. Every effort should be made to preserve a mother’s nursing relationship with her infant. Emergency workers are encouraged to keep the mother and infant together, provide an area as private as possible for nursing, and encourage the mom to nurse her baby at any sign of hunger or stress.
In the cases where a mother gives birth to her baby during an emergency, immediate breastfeeding is crucial( within the first hour). This not only helps in controlling bleeding in the mother, but it provides vital immunity builders for the new infant and helps in building the mothers milk supply. Introducing artificial milk to the infant could be detrimental. Clean water and bottles are needed for the use of breastmilk substitutes, this often hard to find in an emergency, and does nothing in fighting off infection.
Lastly, in many cases, mothers who have weaned their children are able to relactate, and regain the ability to feed their children during times of distress. The breast would require nipple stimulation from the child, and could require several days or weeks, but would be well worth it in regards to the infants long term well being.
Breastfeeding is a vital role for emergency preparedness for the well-being of infants and children. Haiti currently has a need for donated breastmilk, you can read more about their needs at the La Leche League website in their statement: Breastfeeding is the firstline of defense in a Disaster.
Photo by hdptcar