National Preparedness Month Highlights Gaps in Breastfeeding Support

September 12, 2019

Breastfeeding in emergencies. Intellectually, we know it’s a good idea.

In practice? That’s a different story.

An Australian study, published earlier this year in the journal Prehospital and Disaster Medicine (Cambridge University Press), found that no agency at any level of government in the country had plans in place to ensure the needs of infants and young children were met during emergencies.

The absence of any coordinated response for the special needs of infants and children was contrasted to provisions made for animals, “which have a delegated authority, plans, and guidance at all levels of government,” according to the study.

Australia is not alone..

No country does this well.

Hurricanes, fires, floods, mass refugee migrations – the type of emergency doesn’t matter. In every situation, babies and young children – because of their specific nutritional needs – are the most vulnerable population. And because emergencies limit access to potable water and electricity (to make water potable or sterilize feeding equipment), artificial baby milk substitutes are not the answer.

Human milk is the answer.

Delivering human milk to the children who need it in emergency situations has obstacles at every turn:

  • With no official agency plans in place, there is no organized system to activate in emergencies
  • Lactation support providers and networks aren’t part of emergency planning
  • Moms under duress experience a reduction in milk flow, leading the untrained to assume lactation is stopped
  • In the absence of a lactating mom, milk substitutes are given as a preferred alternative

September is National Preparedness Month and the perfect time to consider how we can ensure human milk as the best first food is protected, promoted and supported in emergency situations.

The United States Breastfeeding Committee offers a wealth of resources on the topic of breastfeeding in emergencies.

Dr. Aunchalee Palmquist, a medical anthropologist and IBCLC, studies global maternal and child perinatal health and health disparities at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. Her research includes human milk sharing, milk banking, and infant and young child feeding in emergencies. 

Palmquist will share her experience and observations at the 2020 California Breastfeeding Coalition Summit, which takes place from Jan. 21 to 23 in Sacramento.

CBC project manager and Summit coordinator Emily Bernard said Palmquist’s insight is both timely and relevant here in California.

“Pregnant women and postpartum mothers are not given forethought in emergency situations,” she said. “As a state that has seen its fair share of emergency situations in recent years, California’s birth and lactation workers will benefit greatly from Dr. Palmquist’s insight.”

For more information on the Summit, please visit our event page.