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Breastfeeding Saves Lives In Emergency Situations

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) is promoting World Breastfeeding Week, August 1-7, with the theme Breastfeeding: A Vital Emergency Response.

In emergency situations, the safety net that breastfeeding provides to babies is crucial. Research shows that infants are the most vulnerable population in an emergency, and are more prone to getting diarrhea and other illnesses. Yet babies who are breastfed receive a safe, reliable food source that is full of anti-infective properties to protect them from disease.

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"The cleanest, safest food for an infant is human milk because it is readily available. During a disaster, there may not be clean water to mix formula or sanitize bottles and nipples, or a means to preserve formula if there is no electricity," said Rosanne Smith, breastfeeding coordinator for the OSDH Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants receive only human milk (no formula, food or water) for the first six months of life, with continued breastfeeding and the addition of complimentary foods for up to one year or beyond.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that it is safe to continue breastfeeding if mother or baby has the flu, including the new influenza A H1N1 virus, since the infant would likely have been exposed to the virus before the mother?s symptoms appeared. Mothers make antibodies to fight diseases that they come into contact with, and pass along this immunity to their infants through their breastmilk. This is especially important in young babies when their immune system is still developing. If the mother is too sick to breastfeed, it is recommended that she pump her milk and have someone give the expressed milk to the baby.

During World Breastfeeding Week, county health departments across the state will host various festivities to promote the ?Breastfeeding: A Vital Emergency Response? theme. The OSDH hopes these activities will help inform mothers, breastfeeding advocates, health professionals, and the community on how they can actively support breastfeeding before and during a crisis situation. Supporting breastfeeding in non-emergency settings will strengthen mothers? capacity to cope in an emergency.