In Emergencies, Breastfeeding Is A Lifeline - World Breastfeeding Week (1-7 August) -

In Emergencies, Breastfeeding Is A Lifeline
- World Breastfeeding Week (1-7 August) -

Emergencies can happen anywhere in the world. Infants and young children are especially vulnerable to malnutrition, illness, and death in these situations. Emergencies whether caused by conflict or natural disasters are extraordinary events that can jeopardize the health and survival of large populations. Children are among the most vulnerable groups during emergencies, and small children are the most vulnerable of all, as they face a triple risk of death from diarrhoeal disease, pneumonia and undernutrition. Whatever the emergency, the story is the same: breastfeeding is a lifeline and a shield that protects infants in emergencies.

From 1-7 August 2009, the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action (WABA), and breastfeeding advocates in more than 150 countries worldwide are celebrating World Breastfeeding Week (WBW) for the 18th year. This year, WABA teams up with the Emergency Nutrition Network (ENN) and the International Baby Food Action Network- Geneva Infant Feeding Association (IBFAN-GIFA) who represent an international collaboration of United Nations agencies and non-governmental organisations (IFE Core Group) concerned with protection and support of safe and appropriate infant and young child feeding in emergencies.

"Together we call for the active protection and support of breastfeeding during emergencies and the prevention and refusal of donations of breast-milk substitutes, bottles and teats that, too often, do more harm than good" said Dr Arun Gupta, Regional Coordinator, International Baby Food Action Network(IBFAN) Asia. Dr Gupta is also a member of the Indian Prime Minister's Council on India's Nutrition Challenges.

"When an emergency strikes, simple measures can make all the difference in the world. Emergency preparedness is the key to quick appropriate actions. Mothers need to be secure and have priority access to food for the family, water, shelter and safe places to breastfeed" adds Dr Gupta.

The life-saving role of breastfeeding during emergencies is firmly supported by evidence and guidance. The Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding outlines actions to improve infant and young child feeding in emergencies. In all situations, the best way of preventing malnutrition and mortality among infants and young children is to ensure that they start breastfeeding within one hour of birth, breastfeed exclusively (with no food or liquid other than breast milk, not even water) until six months of age and continue breastfeeding with appropriate complementary foods up to two years or beyond. Even in emergency situations, the aim should be to create and sustain an environment that encourages frequent breastfeeding for children up to at least two years of age.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and UNICEF recommendations - early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding until six months of age and continued breastfeeding for two years or beyond - are even more critical in emergencies. Breastfeeding is the one safe and secure source of food and fluid for infants - instantly available, providing active protection against illness and keeping an infant warm and close to his/her mother. It also reduces the risk of post-partum haemorrhage in the mother, the leading cause of maternal mortality worldwide. In the challenging and risky environment of an emergency, how infants are fed is key to their survival.

"Protecting breastfeeding and infant and young child feeding from inappropriate marketing influences is an essential component of emergency interventions" cautions Dr Gupta. Violations of the International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes and subsequent relevant WHA Resolutions are frequent. International guidance developed by the IFE Group clearly states that donations of breast-milk substitutes, bottles and teats should not be sought nor accepted in emergencies.