Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies in Louisiana: Lessons Learned from a Post-Hurricane Laura Response During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Deerfield Beach, Fla.

 Every year, we look forward to connecting with those in the field of maternal child health and human lactation, sharing our experiences and knowledge to better support families. But given the growing concerns around COVID-19 and new variants, we’ve made the difficult decision to cancel the long-awaited 27th Annual International Breastfeeding Conference in Deerfield Beach, Fla.

This was a very tough call to make and while we wish circumstances were different, we are so grateful for your enthusiasm for this conference.

Although we won’t have the opportunity to connect with conference presenters in person, we are still excited to share with you some of their incredible work here on Our Milky Way

Malaika Ludman, MPH, CLC is a Doula and Program Coordinator at Birthmark Doula Collective & New Orleans Breastfeeding Center. Her work in maternal child health was heavily influenced by her mother’s work. In the 1980s,  she founded a socio medical center in Lome, Togo that offered OB/GYN services, prenatal care, pediatric care, vaccinations, and social services.

Ludman went on to draw inspiration and wisdom from a clinic midwife who she met during a summer in Kaolack, Senegal. As part of her graduate studies, she provided  logistical support to staff at a community-based socio medical center, and that partnership sparked her interest in becoming a doula upon return to the states. 

Ludman was scheduled to present work titled Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies in Louisiana: Lessons Learned from a Post-Hurricane Laura Response During the COVID-19 Pandemic at the conference.

Photo Credit: CDC

The World Breastfeeding Trends Initiative (WBTi) scored the United States zero out of 10 for Infant feeding during Emergencies.  Based on their experiences and observations providing infant feeding support after Hurricane Laura, Ludman and her colleagues developed specific recommendations for their state and local health departments and emergency response agencies for making infant and young child feeding during emergencies (IYCFE) and perinatal emergency preparedness a priority in the United States.

Ludman describes what it’s like to live through a multifaceted crisis– natural disasters exasperated by the climate crisis, a pandemic, and racial health inequities:  

“[It’s] heavy and overwhelming. Observing firsthand the lack of resources, practical assistance, and awareness of the needs of infants and young children and their parents during emergencies is upsetting. While there is an abundance of evidence to support the fact that human milk is the safest feeding option for infants in emergencies, structures that protect, promote, and support breastfeeding are not well integrated into emergency preparedness plans. The US model of disaster response is to request, accept, and distribute donations of infant formula far and wide, without assessing individual need, providing the resources needed to safely prepare formula, or offering follow-up, all of which make infants more vulnerable. 

To make matters more difficult, intense fear of COVID transmission in the early days of the pandemic made parents worry about whether it was safe to even breastfeed their babies. This jeopardized the health of a lot of breastfeeding dyads, and was a worrisome shift ahead of hurricane season. There were healthcare policies and practices that disrupted lactation, in particular separating infants from their parents immediately after birth. Also, social distancing influenced the type of support that families could receive; families were more isolated and support was less ‘hands-on’. This new and uncertain reality compounded with the anxiety of hurricane season was a recipe for stress. 

We also know that emergencies (whether natural disasters or pandemics), affect communities of color differently. In non-emergency situations, communities of color have inequitable access to infant and young child feeding support services and high quality medical care. In emergency situations, this divide becomes even greater. Breastfeeding rates are generally lower in communities of color, and infants that are not breastfed are more susceptible to infection in emergencies. When a disaster disrupts basic services, damages infrastructure, and leads to food and fuel shortages, parents of formula-fed babies become increasingly dependent on external resources.”


Looking into next year, a Birthmark Doula Collective and Xavier University’s collaboration will  conduct community-based participatory research exploring how to support IYCFE in populations with low breastfeeding rates. 

Ludman also shares that Birthmark is partnering with the Louisiana Department of Health’s Bureau of Family Health on a project funded by the National Association of County and City Health Officials. 

She explains: “The goal of the grant is to build relationships between emergency preparedness programs and other stakeholders to identify strategies for improving emergency response plans related to the needs of perinatal people and infants and young children under two years old. A large part of this project is delivering trainings on perinatal emergency preparedness to close to 500 emergency response people in the state of Louisiana by the Spring of 2022. We are currently about halfway through that training goal.” 

You can visit to learn more about Birthmark Doula Collective’s emergency preparedness program.   


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