During humanitarian crises — such as conflicts or severe droughts that are threatening millions of children in Afghanistan, Yemen, Ukraine, the Horn of Africa or the Sahel — the lifesaving importance of breastfeeding is more important than ever.
Even when a mother's diet is limited, she still produces nourishing breast milk that will strengthen a baby's immune system
Breast milk is the perfect first food, filled with micronutrients that support brain development and provide lifelong benefits for both mother and child.
In short, breastfeeding provides babies the best possible start in life — which is why UNICEF works so hard with partners all around the world to promote and support the practice.
And in emergency settings, breastfeeding becomes even more important to a baby's survival and future well-being.
When families are forced out of their homes, with little or no access to food, clean water, sanitation and basic health care, it's babies and young children who are most vulnerable to infectious diseases and severe malnutrition.
In these situations, breastfeeding guarantees a safe, nutritious and convenient food source for babies and a protective shield against disease and death.
Even when a mother's diet is unbalanced or limited, she still produces nourishing breast milk that will strengthen her baby's immune system.
Breastfeeding is also beneficial to mothers. It can reduce toxic stress by boosting levels of oxytocin, a hormone that aids in relaxation and helps breast milk to flow. Physical, skin-to-skin contact during breastfeeding can calm a mother and her baby.
Substitutes for breast milk, on the other hand, pose significant health risks to babies — particularly in emergency settings, where quality is difficult to ensure and access to safe drinking water is limited.
UNICEF recommends the use of infant formula only after all other options have been explored. UNICEF and the World Health Organization have issued clear guidelines for parents, caregivers and health professionals to ensure the safe and appropriate use of infant formula.
UNICEF’s vision for breastfeeding is founded on the understanding that breastfeeding is not a one-woman job; that making it work requires government leadership and support from families, communities, workplaces and the health system.
UNICEF is calling on governments, donors, civil society and the private sector to step up efforts to protect, promote and support breastfeeding by:
- prioritizing investment in breastfeeding support programs, especially in areas facing food and nutrition insecurity and other emergencies
- equipping health care workers with the skills they need to provide quality counseling and practical support to help mothers breastfeed
- protecting caregivers and health care workers from the unethical marketing influence of the infant formula industry by fully adopting and implementing the International Code of Marketing of Breast Milk Substitutes, including in humanitarian settings
Help UNICEF reach mothers and babies with the support they need to stay healthy and thrive. Donate today.