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Infant feeding during disasters

In January of 2011, the U.S. Surgeon General released a report outlining 20 actions to improve breastfeeding support in the United States, The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding. Has your community taken infant feeding preparation and planning into account when planning for an emergency?

Annually, there are four million pregnant women in the United States alone.[1] To help successfully achieve some of the Surgeon General’s calls to action in the emergency preparedness and response setting, it is helpful to start at the local level.

It is important to address the barriers and limitations that women have described in their reasons for not breastfeeding. Infant feeding is a mother’s choice and her ability to do so, medically or psychologically, is solely based on her decision. This in no way is meant to guilt any mothers.

Some actions that emergency planners can start to look into are:

  • Train and educate health care providers. The support and knowledge your health care providers share with women and children during a disaster could make a large impact in their continued efforts of breastfeeding.
  • Put breastfeeding mothers together. A group of mothers will help provide support and comfort.
  • Try to keep families together, keeping a breastfeeding mother close to her infant will promote milk production and will help the mother feel more at ease.
  • Ensure that the families have access to any resources they may need during a disaster such as a midwife, lactation consultant, or a trained health care provider in case the women have questions or issues while they breastfeed.

More resources and information are available in the Surgeon General’s report. Emergency management planners and state policy makers can lead their communities into increasing support and awareness of breastfeeding, which is one step closer to decreasing the cost for the nation and being an example to other states around the nation.

Tala Hooban works in ACF's Office of Human Services Emergency Preparedness and Response as a Preparedness and Community Resilience Team Lead.

[1] Martin, J.A., Hamilton B.E., Ventura, S.J., Osterman, M.J.K., Wilson, E.C., & Mathews, T.J. (2012). Final data for 2010. National Vital Statistics Reports, 61 (1), p. 2.


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