Written by Kelli Bottolfson-Brown
Katrina, Isaac, Sandy. Earthquakes, blizzards, tornadoes. Natural disasters can hit at any time, sometimes with absolutely no warning, causing property damage and power outages. In extreme cases, families are forced to leave their homes, but, at a minimum, a disruption in normal routines is to be expected. Unfortunately, infants are especially vulnerable during emergencies, and extra care needs to be taken to ensure that they feel safe and secure, and that they are properly nourished, despite the unfortunate circumstances.
During an emergency, breastfeeding is actually the perfect feeding choice – it is safe and sustainable because it doesn’t require clean water, washing facilities, access to electricity, or hot water to sterilize bottles and nipples. Nursing also offers security and warmth to infants, which can help minimize the risk of hypothermia and reduce the amount of stress the baby experiences during the crisis. Breastfeeding doesn’t just benefit infants either. If you breastfeed through an emergency you will continue to feel the closeness and warmth that nursing provides, and you will likely experience enhanced self-assurance and self-reliance as you continue to effectively care for your family even under difficult circumstances. Another very practical benefit of breastfeeding during emergencies is that it can serve as the only form of birth control available, helping to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. Breastfeeding during a crisis is less stressful than formula feeding from both a biological and financial perspective.
When emergencies arise, the most important consideration for ensuring breastfeeding success is to make sure you are not separated from your baby. And, as with a newborn, you should nurse on demand and take the time each day to respond to your baby’s needs even in times of chaos. Baby wearing is an excellent method of providing the closeness, warmth, comfort and opportunity to nurse while accomplishing daily tasks. And, if you are forced to evacuate your home, work with emergency workers to establish a “safe haven”, a clean and comfortable space for you and other nursing moms to breastfeed.
Contrary to popular belief, stress does not negatively impact your milk production. However, stress can cause a delay in let-down, so, during stressful circumstances, you might misinterpret your delayed let-down as a sign that your supply is drying up. This misunderstanding can have tragic consequences, as it can cause feelings of failure and increased stress as you worry that your baby is not being properly nourished. The solution to resolve delayed let-down isn’t the same for every mom, but a good first step is more frequent nursing. When you nurse often, you will not only maintain or increase your supply, the let-down hormones will also help your body respond appropriately to the stressful conditions.