Breastmilk is the best source of food for all babies wherever they live but, in emergency settings where there is a high risk of diarrhoea, pneumonia and malnutrition, breastfeeding can be critical for child survival.
Unfortunately, continuation of breastfeeding can be threatened in times of emergencies.
“When women don’t have enough food to eat, they worry that they won’t produce enough milk. They are sometimes convinced they should switch to formula milk which is often made freely available by infant formula manufacturers who distribute their products as “aid”,” says Dr Hana Bekele, expert in child health and nutrition deployed from WHO’s office in Harare, Zimbabwe, to Mozambique for the response to Cyclone Idai.
“What is most important right now, in this emergency, is to give breastfeeding mothers all possible support so that they can continue to breastfeed,” she says. “These people are traumatized, they have lost everything and are under a lot of stress so we need to support them to do the best thing for their children’s health. Breastfeeding women need everyone’s support.”
In emergencies, the poor physical and mental health of mothers can create special challenges to breastfeeding. Displaced mothers may struggle to find comfortable, private places to breastfeed and their support network of family and friends is often not accessible in emergencies.