Breastfeeding after a natural disaster

Every year nearly 850,000 people in the US are affected by a natural disaster. When a disaster strikes, power can go out, water supplies can become contaminated and food supplies may become limited. But continuing to breastfeed can give your baby protection against illnesses, which is especially important following a natural disaster.

How does breastfeeding help your baby?

  • Protects her from the contaminated water supply
  • Protects against illnesses such as diarrhea
  • Helps comfort and soothe
  • Reduces stress for both mom and baby
  • Your breast milk is ready when your baby needs it

Is my milk safe?

According to the experts at Mother To Baby, substances enter breast milk in very small amounts, so they are not likely to harm a breastfeeding baby. The benefits you are providing your baby through your breast milk usually outweigh risk from an exposure.

Some infections are common after a natural disaster, such as West Nile virus, hepatitis A virus and hepatitis B virus. Most of the time, mothers who have an infection can continue to breastfeed. However if you notice anything different about the way you are feeling, or you are concerned, reach out to your health care provider. If you need medication, be sure to ask your provider if your prescription is safe to take while breastfeeding.  For more information about breastfeeding after a natural disaster, please see Mother-to-Baby’s fact sheet.

Can I feed my baby formula?

If you need to feed your baby formula, use single serving ready-to-feed formula, if possible. Ready-to-feed formula does not need to be mixed with water so you won’t run the risk of contamination. It also does not need to be refrigerated, so you do not need to worry about electricity. Be sure to discard unused formula from an unfinished bottle after one hour of feeding. If you need to use powdered or concentrated formula, mix it with bottled water. If neither option is available, use boiled water. Just be sure you do not use water treated with iodine or chlorine tablets to prepare your baby’s formula unless you do not have bottled water and cannot boil your water.

How to breastfeed after a disaster

Feed your baby when she is hungry or expressing feeding cues. Keep in mind, breastfeeding is not only for nutrition; your baby may also nurse for comfort. And it’s good for you too – nursing will allow the release of hormones which can help reduce your stress.

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