Guiding resources for infant and young child feeding during emergencies

Not long ago, when extreme weather occurred, we were told it wasn’t possible to link specific events to the climate crisis. Now though, scientists have figured out a model to represent how the climate crisis produces specific weather events like Hurricane Harvey and the extreme heat in the Pacific Northwest.

We know that these extreme events will occur more and more, continuing to affect everyone on the planet. Climate-related emergencies are displacing entire populations of people. Read about The Great Climate Migration here and here.

As climate-change related emergencies continue, the need for support for mothers and their young children is crucial. In the United States, “we have a long way to go to ensure that families are held with kindness and care during emergencies,” United States Breastfeeding Committee’s (USBC) Amelia Psmythe Seger writes in Disasters Don’t Wait.

Photo Credit: CDC

Protecting and supporting breastfeeding at every level and continuing with appropriate complementary feeding are proven strategies for reducing health risks to infants and young children and can limit the impact of the rapidly growing formula industry on climate change and the first-food system.  

In an event earlier this year, the Global Breastfeeding Collective (GBC) and the IFE Core Group hosted Strategies for Infant and Young Child Feeding (IYCF) in Climate-Related Emergencies.

Speaker Isabelle Modigell, lead author of the Operational Guidance: Breastfeeding Counselling in Emergencies, shared a list of resources that will inevitably become more and more applicable to those working in the field of maternal child health as we are challenged by the climate crisis. 

As planetary health heals and healthy IYCF becomes a global priority, it is our hope that these resources someday become obsolete. In the meantime, please consult the strategies set forth in these documents as we trudge through current realities. 

  • The Sphere Handbook sets minimum, humanitarian standards. In its Food Security and Nutrition chapter, Standard 4.1 covers policy and coordination and Standard 4.2 covers multi sectoral support.  


  • For details on how to implement these minimum standards, head to IFE’s operational guidance on infant and young child feeding in emergencies.  This document is portioned into six key sections, available in over 10 languages, and as Modigell points out, the hard copy is small and easy to pop into luggage, a definite advantage as internet access is often limited or absent during emergencies.  


  • Based on the Operational Guidance on IYCF-E (OG-IFE), IFE published the Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies (IYCF-E) infographic series. The infographics are designed for a diverse audience, from midwives to policy makers. This resource has information on things like stopping inappropriate donations and dealing with waste management. 


Creating strong plans, support and policies during non-emergency times is also critical of course. When these safeguards are already in place, it lowers vulnerabilities during emergencies. For this, Modigell says, we must start with the Code, and we must improve ongoing access to skilled breastfeeding counseling.

Photo by Luiza Braun on Unsplash

From a U.S. perspective, as part of its Racial Equity training series, USBC hosted an Infant and Young Child Feeding During Emergencies (IYCFE) webinar featuring Katherine Shealy, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Aunchalee Palmquist, Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute, UNC-Gillings School of Public Health, Felisha Floyd, National Association of Professional and Peer Lactation Supporters of Color (NAPPLSC), Lourdes Santaballa, Executive Director, IBCLC, IYCFS at Alimentación Segura Infantil (ASI), and Tracy Erickson, Texas Department of Health Services, WIC Program. It was designed to help coalitions and organizations build the capacity to coordinate support and be active IYCFE stakeholders. You can watch that here.

Also on the national front, USBC delivered their organizational sign-on letter supporting the DEMAND Act of 2022 (Delivering Essentials to Mothers Amid Natural Disasters Act). The DEMAND Act would ensure that lactation support services and supplies are eligible expenses for emergency assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Critical Needs Assistance program. The letter was delivered to members of the House Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings, and Emergency Management and the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Additional signers will be added on a rolling basis. Updates on this effort and others can be found in their Weekly Wire Newsletter.

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