Spot the difference

An example of messaging  that can undermine breastfeeding and feed commonly held misconceptions.

We are pleased that DEC has agreed to ensure that future appeals following our complaint about this full page appeal in the Guardian today.

Disasters Emergency Appeal (DEC) in the Guardian Wednesday March 22nd


DEC Guardian_22.3.17



The importance of correct messaging about breastfeeding in emergencies.

We  applaud the UN and aid agencies for drawing attention to the crisis unfolding in South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria but  appeal to the media and all involved to ensure that messages about infant and young child feeding are correct. 

This appeal – Bisharo has no milk to feed her child – Bisharo is too malnourished to produce her own milk –  sends a very unhelpful message about breastfeeding.  Whether the claim about lack of milk is true in this particular instance is not really the point. The whole appeal feeds commonly held misconceptions about how breastfeeding works and what is really needed.

UN and aid agencies all agree that humanitarian relief programmes must include training on how to protect, promote and support breastfeeding, as well as how to support non breastfed children in ways that do not undermine breastfeeding. 

What to avoid:

  • Messages that suggest that women can’t breastfeed because of stress or malnourishment are not helpful and feed commonly held misconceptions.  Mothers need support, protection, encouragement and reassurance – this is far more likely to help them maintain breastfeeding or relactate.
  • Calls for donations of breastmilk substitutes and bottles and teats can do more harm than good. Bottle feeding is a huge risk in emergency situations and is unsustainable. If supplies are needed they should be “purchased, distributed and used according to strict criteria.’*
  • Baby foods industry claims that they have humanitarian motives. This is all part of a CSR marketing strategy that we call “the Business of Malnutrition.’’ 

Why Breastfeeding is so important:

Babies have specific nutritional needs and are born with an undeveloped immune system. For infants who are breastfed, breastmilk provides both food and immune support, which protects  them from the worst of emergency conditions. However, the situation is very different for babies who are not breastfed. In an emergency, food supplies are disrupted, there may be no clean water with which to make up breastmilk substitutes or to clean feeding implements. Health care systems are invariably stretched past breaking point. This means that babies who are not breastfed are vulnerable to infection and to developing diarrhoea. Babies with diarrhoea  easily become malnourished and dehydrated and so are at real risk of death.  So whenever there is an emergency, it is extremely important that babies who are already being breastfed continue to be and that babies who are not breastfed re-start breastfeeding or, if this is not possible, are given infant formula in the safest possible way.

*The UN  Operational Guidance on Infant and Young child feeding in emergencies (version 2.1, February 2007) adopted in May 2010 by resolution 63.23 of the World Health Assembly (WHA): “urges Member states to ensure that national and international preparedness plans and emergency responses follow the evidence-based Operational Guidance for Emergency Relief Staff and Programme Managers2 on infant and young child feeding in emergencies, which includes the protection, promotion and support for optimal breastfeeding, and the need to minimize the risks of artificial feeding, by ensuring that any required breast-milk substitutes are purchased, distributed and used according to strict criteria”
For more  follow this link to a, ENN/IBFAN media guide for  reporting on infant feeding in emergencies
For more on CLICK HERE for IBFAN page on Infant feeding in Emergencies.
Save the Children, TOPs, USAID  IYCF-E Briefing for All Aid Workers and Volunteers in Disasters Infant and Young Child Feeding – Why should it Matter to Me? 2. IYCF-E Briefing for All Aid Workers and Sectors (1)
UN urges no formula donations after Philippines Typhoon  CLICK HERE  for Update 46 story
Media messages and the needs of infants and young children after Cyclone Nargis and the WenChuan Earthquake
Karleen D. Gribble, PhD Adjunct Fellow, School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Western Sydney, Australia
  • Tagged on:         

    One thought on “Ensuring correct messaging about breastfeeding in emergencies.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published.