Breastfeeding: A Vital Emergency Response

by Julie Snyder

World Breastfeeding Week

World Breastfeeding Week is an annual event held August 1st - 7th. For over 20 years, this has become a worldwide celebration commemorating the signing of the Innocenti Declaration outlining the many benefits of breastfeeding along with government and global goals. More so, this week has enabled women around the world (currently in over 150 countries) to encourage, empower, and serve as witnesses as they breathe life into and expand the document's findings.

In 2009, the theme was centered on "Breastfeeding -- A Vital Emergency Response." It's still as vital today. Emergencies can happen anywhere and anytime. Infants and young children are especially vulnerable in these situations by threats of malnutrition, illness, and death. When disaster strikes child mortality rates may rocket 2 to 70 times their norm. As devastating as these emergencies can be – from home fires, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, hurricane disasters, conflicts within a nation, or threats of pandemics – the story remains the same. Breastfeeding serves as a lifeline and shield protecting these innocent little ones.

Objectives of World Breastfeeding Week

  • To draw attention to the vital role that breastfeeding plays in emergencies worldwide.
  • To stress the need for active protection and support of breastfeeding before and during emergencies.
  • To inform mothers, breastfeeding advocates, communities, health professionals, governments, aid agencies, donors, and the media on how they can actively support breastfeeding before and during an emergency.
  • To mobilize action and nurture networking and collaboration between those with breastfeeding skills and those involved in emergency response.

Reasons for Breastfeeding during Disaster (and beyond)

  1. The American Academy of Pediatrics Key Strategy states, "Increasing the current rate of breastfeeding in the United States is fundamental to optimize infant nutrition, especially when disaster strikes.1
  2. The cleanest, safest food for an infant is human milk.
    Breast milk is a safe and secure food source for babies and toddlers. The skin-to-skin contact helps prevent hypothermia, and it protects against infectious and bacterial illnesses such as diarrhea.

    Being able to continue breastfeeding during an emergency can bring comfort and a sense of normalcy even in the most stressful situations. Breastfeeding can continue even when an emergency interferes with the family's established food supply and utilities. Situations that would otherwise be devastating for families that rely on sufficient funds for and access to formula, sanitation for feeding supplies, and refrigeration are no cause for alarm when the established food supply for the baby is mother's milk. A breastfed baby is better prepared to deal with health challenges, avoiding some medical emergencies.2

  3. Breast milk is a free, renewable resource that does not damage our planet.
    • It's a natural, renewable resource and is all the baby needs for the first six months of life.
    • It requires no resources for packaging, shipping or disposal.
    • No precious energy is wasted producing artificial baby milk and related products.
    • No land needs to be deforested for pasture or crop production.
    • It does not create pollution from the manufacturing of human milk substitutes, bottles, nipples and cans.
    • It helps space babies by suppressing fertility in the mother.

Show Your Support!

One of the most important ways to support breastfeeding during a crisis situation is to reinforce the important role it plays during an emergency. Step up and get involved! Take advantage of the flyers and promotional material available from Worldbreastfeedingweek.org and LaLeche League International. Participate in events in your area and/or online -- including those here at Pregnancy.org! Raise awareness by joining forces with millions of others from around the world. You may just ignite a spark that will serve for generations to come.

Pregnancy.org's World Breastfeeding Week Resources

Great Breastfeeding Articles

Expert Question and Answers

Sources:
1. Key strategies for promotion of Breastfeeding
2. LLL USA Celebrates World Breastfeeding Week
3. Breastfeeding -- a vital Emergency Response...Are You Ready?
4. Infant Nutrition During a Disaster

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