Link to the IYCFE HUB with materials and infographics.
2017 revision of the original 1999 Operational Guidance on Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies outlines evidence-based actions to safeguard the health of infants and young children in emergencies (also in Arabic).  
The World Health Assembly  63.23 Resolution adopted in 2019,  urged 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”
  • Donations of baby feeding products can undermine efforts to protect breastfeeding – a practice that is resilient and provides food, care, immune support and protection from the worst of emergency conditions.  
  • There are common misconceptions about breastfeeding and stress. Although stress can temporarily interfere with the flow of breast milk in some women, it is not likely to inhibit breastmilk production, provided mothers and infants remain together and are supported to initiate and continue frequent breastfeeding.
  • The cost of shipping large heavy tins of formula wastes resources. Giving cash to trusted organisations who can distribute the appropriate formula on the spot is safer.
  • Donated products may not be the right stage or type, instructions may not be adequate or in the correct language and labels may carry false claims.
  • Families hiding in shelters or on the move often don’t have any way to boil water to prepare formula safely. During emergencies, formula can make some babies ill and should only be used when needed.
  • Babies are at great risk of water-related diseases, with diarrhoeal disease the second biggest killer of under-fives.  
Why infants have special needs

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.

Emergency Appeals: getting the message right

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.’’ 

Links to blogs and publications on infant feeding in  emergencies

IFE_policy_strategy_and_practice  Report of the Ad Hoc Group on Infant feeding in Emergencies.  May 1999

In 1994 we exposed a dreadful TV appeal for Bosnia sponsored by Cow&Gate that totally ignored the risks of bottle-feeding.    This campaign resulted in OXFAM, Save the Children and many charities coming together to strengthen and improve their infant feeding in emergencies policies. This led to the formation of Infant Feeding in Emergencies interagency group – hosted by the Emergencies Nutrition Network (ENN).

In 2017, we criticised an appeal by the Disasters Emergency Committee DEC Bisharo has no milk. After being alerted, the DEC ran a second, better appeal – Help make this Mother’s Day and has since improved its messaging about breastfeeding.
Spot the difference
Getting messages right. The revised DEC appeal.

Briefing on Protecting infants in emergencies:  Information for the Media

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


Infant Feeding in Emergencies Core Group

Since 1999 IBFAN has been a core member of this multi-agency body  that has developed numerous resources and international guidance on safer infant feeding in emergencies.      Click Here for  IFE resources.

Many of the IFE members are also members of the  Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) CLICK HERE.

The International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes and the World Health Assembly  Resolutions are all the more important in emergencies. Monitoring and reporting Code violations in emergency situations are key components of all emergency responses.

Mexican Appeal to protect breastfeeding – Nestle sends unsolicited formula

  • Tagged on:     

    One thought on “Compilation on Infant feeding in emergencies

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published.