Each year Missourians are affected by disasters such as tornadoes, fires, floods, and power outages. Missouri’s infants become increasingly more vulnerable to disease and death during these types of events. Breastfeeding plays a vital role in protecting infants during an emergency and can be life saving. Breastmilk is a safe and secure food for infants that is readily available. Risks emerge, during emergencies with the use of formula due to the possibility of an unsafe water supply, lack of water and refrigeration and inability to sanitize bottles and nipples.
In an emergency situation, detailed preparation is key. The following items should be part of a breastfeeding mother’s emergency supply kit:
- Water – enough for mother to drink one gallon per day for three days
- Food – nonperishable food, such as peanut butter, protein bars, etc. (be sure to include a manual can opener)
- Manual Breast Pump
- Bottle with disposable liners
- Nursing bras and disposable bra pads
- Disposable wipes
- Extra changes of clothes for mother and baby
The basics of breastfeeding during an emergency are much the same as they are in more stable times. Continuing to breastfeed whenever the baby seems hungry maintains a mother’s milk supply and provides comfort. Measures that keep a mother safe, well-nourished, and free from illness will help protect her baby and her milk supply.
Babies breastfeed for more than just food. If a baby has just nursed and wants more nursing that is fine and is to be encouraged. The release of hormones while a mother is breastfeeding relieves stress and anxiety and is calming to both mother and baby. Babies' lives are saved every day by mothers who breastfeed them in spite of natural disasters.
If a mother has not recently given birth, but it is up to six months after birth she can attempt to relactate (produce milk again even if she never nursed her baby before) by putting the baby to the breast, or expressing the breast, every two hours. Initially she may be producing only drops per day. In general, the more milk that is removed from a mother's breasts one day, the more she will make the next day. Individual women have different experiences with how long the process takes. With younger babies, the milk supply increases more quickly. However, there have been reports of older babies and toddlers who have also returned to nursing. The only way to find out how much milk you will make is to try it.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding without the introduction of any other food or water during their first six months and continue for at least 12 months and thereafter for as long as mutally desired.
For additional information, visit the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services’ breastfeeding web site.