Author’s Introduction: I have five years experience breastfeeding my two children. I am an accredited La Leche League Leader, which is a volunteer breastfeeding counselor who is active in providing breastfeeding support to families and communities, for three years. I am the chair of a local breastfeeding advocacy organization and have started an organization that encourages breastfeeding in marginalized populations. Additionally I have taken classes, attended conferences and am part of local breastfeeding coalitions. I recently sat for my board exam to become an IBCLC (Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant) and am currently awaiting my test results.
Our community has been struck by nationally declared disasters (hurricanes, floods and tornadoes) and I have had the privilege to take part in the education provided by local infant care professionals on the subject of disaster preparedness for infants and young children. I believe this is an often overlooked topic when it comes to survival, and know that this information will prove invaluable to all.
It may not seem very important at the moment, since the general population is pro “do whatever you want”, we have access to funds or assistance for the purchase of infant formula, and have endless clean water. However, breastfeeding is and can be a life saving tool. Not only is it the only substance an infant needs, it is also beneficial to all children. Breastmilk is an endless commodity, it alleviates the need to worry about formula preparation and storage, it is medicine, and can be used for adult consumption.
Breastfeeding is an important part of mammalian development. It is the only substance an infant up to six months needs to survive; they do not even need water! Breast milk provides all of a baby’s nutrients and fluids. This liquid gold isn’t only beneficial as a means of sustenance, it works to protect infants and children against illness and infection. The live antibodies and cells are constantly changing to meet the ever- evolving needs of the child. If the mother is sick, her body will produce milk high the the antibodies needed to prevent her child from developing the same illness. According to the Center for Disease Control, “breast milk helps protect babies from diseases such as diarrhea and respiratory infections, and provides the calories and nutrients babies need. This protection is especially important during natural disasters when contaminated water and unsanitary environments can increase the risk of disease.”
Infant Formula in Disasters
If there is no source of clean water, it would be impossible to mix up infant formula without exposing the infant to pathogens and contaminants. These pathogens lead to sickness such diarrhea, dehydration, respiratory infections and possibly death (and so much more). “Nearly 95% of infant and child deaths in emergencies result from diarrhea due to contaminated water and an unsanitary environment,” according to numerous studies and The United States Breastfeeding Committee. Infant formula has an expiration date (it isn’t good forever), isn’t sterile (runs other risks of infection), requires the use of clean water, disinfected bottle parts, and other clean conditions to be properly mixed and utilized in a manner that will not do harm to the infant. These conditions cannot be guaranteed in the event of a catastrophic event. Human milk is always clean, requires no fuel, water, or electricity, and is available, even in the most dire circumstances.
Women can produce breast milk as long as they continue to nurse children or express milk (which can be done manually without need for electricity). Women can nurse their babies and other children if needed and amazingly, women who have previously breastfed can easily induce lactation if needed. Therefore breastmilk is in endless supply. If a mother dies in childbirth, if a mother is not breastfeeding and has no access to formula, she can have another lactating mother nurse the child to ensure it thrives. If the same unfortunate circumstances occurred, a grandmother or aunt could induce lactation to provide nutrition for their family member. Additionally, if needed, breastmilk can be used as a bartering tool for families who need something because in dire straits, breast milk will be in high demand.
The live antibodies in breastmilk are a source of medicine, for the baby and for others. According to Dr Sears (revered infant pediatrician, author of numerous evidence based books) “One drop of breast milk contains one million white blood cells whose main job is to fight germs”. When expressed, breastmilk can be used as a topical medication. It’s antibacterial properties aid in healing cuts, scrapes, insect bites, sunburns, ear infections, eye infections, skin rashes and other skin irritations. Since breast milk contains undifferentiated stem cells, a child consuming it is being internally repaired. If there is an issue, the undifferentiated stem cells go where they are needed and work on repairing whatever issue the child may be having.
Many people believe that a mother must be in perfect health in order to breastfeed, however there are very few instances in which breastfeeding is contraindicated and these instances are almost non existent once devastation has hit. Malnutrition, alcohol consumption and HIV status, which are not usually contraindicated now, will be of even less concern if there is no access to sanitary conditions and clean water. Radiation therapy, certain medications and drug use, which can be a reason for discontinuing breastfeeding in today’s world, will likely not be reasons as we revert back to our natural instincts. Environmental contaminants can be another cause for concern for breastfeeding families, however breastmilk is still the perfect source of nutrition for baby because these contaminants are more than likely in the food and water sources in the area . Breastmilk will continue to be the best source of nutrition for an infant/child no matter the status of the mother.
In an emergency situation, everyone is stressed, anxious, and can be fearful of the unknown. “Breastfeeding releases hormones that lower stress and anxiety in both babies and mothers” which is essential to keep a calm atmosphere and stave off a feeling of desperation and nervousness, especially in the child population. On the other side, mothers who are producing milk can become stressed which can inhibit milk production. This can be remedied by producing a tranquil area for mothers to relax with their children. “Women who are stressed can continue to make milk. A quiet area that helps mothers relax can help their milk flow to the baby.” (United States Breastfeeding Committee). Emotions may be running high under intense circumstances, however, with family, friends and a supportive network, they can be easily managed.
Breastfeeding keeps mother and baby close to one another. The effects of keeping this dyad close can be monumental. It gives the child a constant source of nutrition, keeps him warm and give him a much needed sense of security and love. The mother has less anxiety with her child near to her and also benefits from the warmth of the child. “Mothers who breastfeed are able to keep their babies warm to prevent hypothermia.” (USBC) Hypothermia is a consequence of lack of electricity, lack of a heat source and exposure. Keeping mothers and children together and breastfeeding could help to prevent hypothermia from overtaking families.
Human milk can be used as nutrition for adults as well! A lactating woman can express her milk in a cup and adults and children can drink it as a source of sustenance. In addition to drinking it, breast milk can also be made into cheese, yogurt and butter for consumption by all. Only a few added ingredients are needed, such as vinegar and salt. It may sound strange to the masses now, however when SHTF, it will be a welcome source of nutrition for many.
It Takes Some Practice
Although breastfeeding is natural, it does not always come naturally to new parents. Learning how to breastfeed, getting the support needed, positioning the baby comfortably, figuring out if baby is getting enough milk and even knowing the benefits of breastfeeding can all be daunting topics for a new family, especially at TEOTWAWKI! Fortunately, babies are born with all of the tools and are ready to initiate breastfeeding. Putting baby skin to skin directly after birth gives them the proper surface and sensory cues to find the breast and milk on their own. Sometimes they need a little extra help, however mother is there to help them find their way (Breastfeeding Your Newborn).
Knowing how to properly latch the infant, stoking infant nose with mother’s nipple to encourage a wide gape and getting as much breast tissue as possible in the baby’s mouth, is tough unless there is an experienced breastfeeder there to help. Learning how to position baby in a way that is comfortable for the mother is essential to avoid further fatigue to the mother’s body. (Positioning).
Support is key in breastfeeding, family members and especially partners can make or break a breastfeeding relationship. Making sure mother is getting the rest she needs and providing positive emotional support are a couple of things families can do to encourage and support a mother who is breastfeeding (Supporting a Breastfeeding Mother).
Getting Enough Milk?
Understanding and being able to tell if baby is getting enough milk can be the toughest issue a parent must deal with. Since you don’t measure out breast milk and can’t physically see how much milk baby is taking in, one must rely on other signals for this information. Knowing how many stools and wet diapers are normal or each age, how much weight gain to expect and how many times a mother should be nursing her baby per day is essential. Here are some things to watch for, or questions to ask:
- Is baby nursing 8-12 times per 24 hours?
- Is baby gaining ½ oz to 1 oz per day after the first 3-4 days?
- Are babies stools yellow and seedy looking after the first 3-4 days?
- Is baby stooling 3-4 times per day after first 3-4 days?
- Is baby happy and alert?
- Is baby settled after a nursing session?
These are some of the questions that should be answered ‘yes’ to in order to assure proper milk intake (Is Baby Getting Enough?).
And the benefits of breastfeeding are numerous. It fights against ear infections,helps prevent asthma, fights off lower respiratory infections, prevents diarrhea and vomiting, decreases the chance of developing childhood obesity, helps prevent eczema, type 2 diabetes, childhood leukemia, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
After the devastation of the typhoons in the Philippines in 2007, disaster efforts began. Formula companies began pushing formula to parents, saying that they were aiding in the relief efforts, helping parents of infants and newborns to meet the nutritional needs of the affected families. Mothers who had been successfully breastfeeding abandoned it, being led to believe by heavy marketing, that the formula was better for their babies and newly delivered mothers did not initiate breastfeeding for the same reasons. After the relief efforts were over and everyone pulled out to help in another emergency, these families were left with no funds to continue purchasing the infant formula that they relied so heavily upon and no clean water to prepare it even if they had. The families began buying powdered coffee creamer as a substitute for the much more expensive formula and others sold everything they had to be able to afford what formula they could. Babies became sick and many died from malnutrition, waterborne illness and other environmental contaminants. All of this could have been avoided had mothers continued to breastfeed or been supported and encouraged to breastfeed from birth. Not only could lives have been saved, but immune systems boosted and bodies protected from what ultimately was their demise. In an emergency, infant formula will be a limited commodity. Its use will not be sustainable and parents should be encouraged to breastfeed their children to prevent illness, disease, anxiety and so much more.
Presently, breastfeeding is a choice to many. But when catastrophe hits, it will no longer be a choice but a necessity, to ensure survival. The benefits to the child, the mother, the family and those around a breastfeeding dyad. Our children are the ones who will continue to live on once we are dead and gone, don’t we want to make sure that we give them the best start to live on and prosper? Breastfeeding will not solve all of the issues that will arise, but it will ensure the best possible start for our children and with all of the additional benefits, how could we go wrong?
Some Breastfeeding in a Disaster or Emergency Links: