Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies (IYCFE)

National Breastfeeding Month 2020 continues with a focus this week on Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies (IYCFE). Communities experience emergencies, both natural and man-made, that impact important services, e.g., reliable electrical service, safe and clean water, access to community services.  Communities now also are faced with responding to emergencies in the context of COVID-19. 

Focusing on Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies during National Breastfeeding Month 2020 is important to raise awareness and provide resources for communities to prepare for emergencies, especially in this time of COVID-19. The United States Breastfeeding Committee provides resources and opportunities for action with the “aim to embed IYCFE in the Nation’s emergency response infrastructure for now and the future.” 

The national focus is vital. Regional, state, and local Breastfeeding Family Friendly Communities also need to create policies and plans for Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies in their local emergency response infrastructure. How communities prepare for and handle infant feeding during emergencies is crucial to the health and safety of our youngest community members. Breastfeeding saves lives. It is the safest way to feed an infant, requiring no electricity, fuel, or water.  It is clean and readily available. Human milk meets the infant’s need for fluids, as well as for nutrition, and provides immune protection to help fight infections.

Planning and preparation should take place before there is an emergency.  Well-meaning people, as well as companies that manufacture breast-milk substitutes, will be ready to donate formula for infant feeding, and the community response might be to distribute the formula to all families. However, families who are breastfeeding do not need formula to feed their infants; they need support from first responders and other emergency workers to continue to breastfeed.

Here are some resources for your Breastfeeding Family Friendly Community to support breastfeeding and infant feeding policies and practices in emergencies:

Some key points for a Breastfeeding Family Friendly Community to consider as you prepare to support families during an emergency:

  • Create a safe place for infant feeding that keeps families together;
  • Reassure breastfeeding parents that continuing to breastfeed is the best choice for feeding their infant and encourage parents to breastfeed as often as the baby wants. It is clean, safe, and readily available;
  • Target support to the family’s feeding needs: 
    • Support breastfeeding families to continue to breastfeed as the safest feeding option; 
    • Help non-breastfeeding families with safe feeding options, offering infant formula when all other feeding options have been explored and the family can safely prepare the formula and feed the infant; 
  • Do not accept donations of infant formula or distribute formula to all families; purchase ready-to-use formula only as needed;
  • Encourage parents who are both breastfeeding and bottle-feeding to increase breastfeeding during the emergency as the clean, safe, and readily-available feeding method.
  • Support breastfeeding as the safest infant feeding method before there is an emergency, and continue to support breastfeeding during emergencies!