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Hurricane season and safe infant feeding

September 2019

This past week we have seen the devastation as Hurricane Dorian made landfall as a Category 5 storm pounding the Bahamas. It continued to make its way up the east coast of the USA and Canada, causing destruction. Flooding, power outages, damage to buildings are just some of the issues affected communities experience. What happens when you are a family with infants and small children who need feeding, and there is no easy access to clean water or electricity?

Hurricane Dorian

In such emergencies, communities need to be aware of how to best support infant feeding. Very few, if any, governments have policies for this. There are guidelines for what to do for pets in these events but not for infants and young children.

There have been many posts on Facebook, providing information on what to do in these situations. SafelyFed Canada provides outreach to local Canadian and USA communities involved in an emergency, to support and guide those on the ground related to infant feeding.

They cover information on evacuating with infants; for those managing shelters, they provide information on what caregivers with infants need. They provide links on how to protect frozen human milk, how to evacuate with that milk as well as a hotline and other pertinent information.

Important key messages include;

Health care providers

  • Support exclusive breastfeeding during emergencies
  • Know how to safely prepare infant formula should it be needed
  • Guide parents how to cup feed rather than use a bottle for safety
  • Know how to teach hand expression to parents

Shelter workers

  • Families need a safe place to nurse and feed
  • Families need a place to safely prepare formula
    • Ready to feed formula is safer than powdered formula
    • Need a place to boil water, sterilize equipment, and prepare feeds
    • Offer cups for feeding as easier to clean

Birthing during emergencies

  • Keep baby with you
  • Breastfeed, no bottles until the danger has passed

Families evacuating with infants

  • Once out of immediate danger pull over and feed the baby
  • Feed as often as you safely can
  • Keep baby skin to skin and breastfeed often

Further Reading

Here are some interesting documents for further reading;

  1. IFE Core Group (2017). Operational Guidance on Infant Feeding in Emergencies (OG-IFE) version 3.0 (Oct 2017)
  2. Gribble, K., & Fernandes, C. (2018). Considerations regarding the use of infant formula products in infant and young child feeding in emergencies (IYCF-E) programs. World Nutrition, 9(3), 261-283. doi:10.26596/wn.201893261-283 

Useful websites

  1. SafelyFed Canada
  2. SafelyFed Canada Facebook page
  3. Evacuating with frozen breastmilk
  4. Infant feeding in emergencies and disasters
  5. My power went out and I have breastmilk in the freezer – Help!
  6. Disaster Planning: Infant and Child Feeding
  7. Infant Feeding in Emergencies (IFE)

 Safety means being prepared for unexpected situations!

Carole Dobrich RN, B.Sc, IBCLC, ANLC

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Last Updated: September 2018