Breastfeeding Babies in an Emergency

Feeding babies in an emergency has recently become more of an interest for me, since we have started to have great-grandchildren.  While we have 17 grandchildren it has been some time since we have had any infants in the family.  Now I am a believer in breastfeeding. When possible this is always the best option.

First I would like to dispel a few myths on breastfeeding in an emergency.  This information is from WELLSTART International 

  • Misconceptions about breastfeeding in emergencies
  • Women under stress cannot breastfeed
  • Malnourished women don’t produce enough milk
  • Weaning cannot be reversed
  • General promotion of breastfeeding is enough
  • Human milk substitutes (infant formula and/or milk) are a necessary response to an emergency

Women under stress CAN successfully breastfeed

Milk release (letdown) is affected by stress.  Milk production is NOT.  Different hormones control these two processes.  The treatment for poor milk release is increased suckling which increases the release of oxytocin, the letdown hormone.  Research suggests that lactating women have a lower response to stress, so helping women to initiate or continue to BF may help them relieve stress.

Malnourished women DO produce enough milk

It is extremely important to distinguish between true cases of insufficient milk production (very rare) and perceptions. Milk production is relatively unaffected in quantity and quality except in extremely malnourished women (only 1% of women). When women are malnourished it is the mother who suffers, not the infant. The solution to helping malnourished women and infants is to feed the mother not the infant. The mother will be less harmed by pathogens and she obviously needs more food. By feeding her, you are helping both the mother and child and harming neither. Remember that giving supplements to infants can decrease milk production by decreasing suckling. The treatment for true milk insufficiency is increased suckling frequency and duration.

What do you do if breastfeeding fails

You always need a backup plan.  One of my daughters used to try different formulas on her babies as soon as they were home.  When she found one that agreed with them she would buy 6 or 7 months of formula and store it.  If she does not have to use it she would then donate it to a charity before its expiration date.

In the past ,prior to manufactured infant formulas being available at your local grocery stores, Mothers used to feed their children a mixture of condensed milk, karo syrup and water.   While not the best, many children were successfully raised on it.  They used a one to one mixture of milk to water with 2 tablespoons of karo syrup added.  Condensed milk is something that you can store in your preps and a  cup of whole milk has about 160 calories while condensed milk has 338, plus twice the protein, fat, carbs of regular milk.

Like I say breastfeeding is always best, but in an emergency, you may need other options.  If you have addition information in this area, please share it with us.


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