Breastfeeding during Disasters
In the event of a natural disaster, such as a hurricane, flood, wildfire, earthquake, tornado, or other emergency, it's important to be prepared. A natural disaster can cause power outages and lead to unhealthy living spaces and unsafe water conditions. You may also experience feelings of stress, anxiety, grief, and worry during and/or following a disaster.
Breastfeeding is a safe infant feeding option during disasters. If you are already breastfeeding during a natural disaster, then continue to breastfeed. Research shows that infants are the most vulnerable during emergencies due to their high susceptibility to infection, an inability to care for themselves, and their specific food and fluid needs.
A natural disaster often creates an unsanitary environment where clean water, food, and other necessities may be in short supply. Breast milk provides antibodies, which help protect babies from illness. Breastfed babies have lower risks of diarrhea and respiratory infections. Breastfeeding also protects infants from unsafe water, which can increase the risk of disease.
It's also important that the food and water you and the rest of your family consume is safe. You can use these considerations and practical suggestions when putting your emergency food supplies together, managing food without power, and planning for alternative cooking sources.
Mental and Emotional Health
In addition to the benefits breastfeeding offers to babies, it's also beneficial for mothers. Breastfeeding can reduce stress by boosting your levels of oxytocin, a hormone that helps you relax and allows breast milk to flow. Breastfeeding and skin-to-skin contact may calm you and your baby.
In the event you are separated from your child, hand expression is a great way to express milk when your breasts are feeling full. Hand expression does not require any additional equipment. This is especially important during a power outage or if you do not have access to a breast pump.
Of course, disasters are upsetting to everyone involved and can take an emotional toll. Children and people for whom English is not their first language are at particular risk. It's important to recognize signs and ease disaster-related stress in adults and children and seek crisis counseling or stress management assistance if you or a family member is experiencing such stress.
While there are many aspects of a disaster that can cause stress, being as prepared as possible can reduce some of the stressors you have to deal with. In addition to putting together emergency food supplies, you can prepare a kit that includes items that are essential to your family and meet specific needs, such as medications and important family documents. Use this Family Supply List to help gather items for your emergency supply kit.
Still Have Questions?
The Office of Human Services Emergency Preparedness and Response offers ways to support lactating mothers throughout a disaster and identifies some key barriers to maintaining lactation.
Disasters can happen. It’s important to be prepared and have a plan for how you will continue to breastfeed your baby during a disaster. WIC breastfeeding staff is prepared to help you throughout your breastfeeding journey.