World Breastfeeding Week: Infant feeding in emergencies

Breastfeeding protects infants in emergencies

A message from USAID’s Infant & Young Child Nutrition (IYCN) Project and

CARE’s Window of Opportunity Project

August 4, 2009

Dear colleagues,

The theme for this year’s World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) highlights the critical role of breastfeeding before and during emergencies worldwide: Breastfeeding: A Vital Emergency Response. Are you ready?

The IYCN Project and CARE’s Window of Opportunity Project support the campaign’s call for increased efforts to protect, promote, and support breastfeeding in emergencies. During earthquakes, floods, conflicts, and other emergencies, children younger than five years are more likely to become ill and die from malnutrition and disease than anyone else. In general, the younger children are, the more vulnerable they are. Inappropriate feeding increases their risks of death and disease.

In emergencies, optimal infant feeding practices save lives and prevent malnutrition and illness. Protecting, promoting, and supporting breastfeeding, especially exclusive breastfeeding (without adding any other foods or liquids, including water), in emergency situations is particularly important because:

  • The risks of illness are higher. Continued exclusive breastfeeding is therefore even more important as a protective measure during emergencies. 
  • Stress, lack of privacy, and overcrowding in emergency situations may temporarily disrupt breastfeeding or make it more difficult, so breastfeeding must be protected and encouraged during those times.
  • Breast milk substitutes, which are sometimes available through emergency aid, carry risks of increased illness and mortality in the best of circumstances. Where hygiene is poor, access to clean water is lacking, and supplies of substitutes are uncertain, the use of breast milk substitutes becomes even more dangerous.1

Learn more

IYCN and CARE’s Window of Opportunity Project are working in countries around the world to promote and support good infant feeding practices at all times, including before and during emergencies.

Visit the IYCN website to view our collection of resources on infant feeding in emergencies
 and learn more about our World Breastfeeding Week activities.

Visit CARE’s wiki pages—a space where anybody interested in health and development programming can connect with others, share key resources, and contribute. This month’s feature interview on the child health and nutrition wiki is with CARE’s Abigail Beeson and Mary Lung’aho, who share insight about their time spent working to integrate breastfeeding support skills and promotion capacity into CARE’s emergency program in Dadaab, Kenya.