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Breastfeeding an urgent need in emergencies

World Breastfeeding Week is August 1-7, 2009

breastfeedingweek2009NASHVILLE – Emergency preparedness for families involves stocking supplies and making plans for coping with a crisis situation. Those plans should also include breastfeeding for infants. The Tennessee Department of Health is working to raise awareness of breastfeeding as a crucial practice during emergencies as part of the observance of World Breastfeeding Week, August 1-7, 2009.

The theme of World Breastfeeding Week 2009 is “Breastfeeding – A Vital Emergency Response. Are You Ready?” This theme highlights the need to protect, promote and support breastfeeding in emergencies for the survival, health and development of infants and young children.

“Children are among the most vulnerable groups during emergencies, and small children are the most vulnerable of all due to increased risk of death due to diarrhea and pneumonia,” said Glenda King, breastfeeding coordinator for the Tennessee Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. “Breastfeeding is one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival.”

As part of emergency preparedness, hospitals and other health care services should have trained health workers who can help mothers establish breastfeeding to help overcome difficulties associated with a lack of clean and sanitary water, food and surroundings. During emergencies, unsolicited or uncontrolled donations of breast milk substitutes or infant formulas may undermine breastfeeding and should be avoided.

Breastfeeding is the best way to provide newborn infants with the nutrients they need. The American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization and other health professional agencies actively promote breastfeeding as the best source of nourishment for infants and young children. In Tennessee, health department data show 60 percent of mothers breastfeed while in the hospital after delivery.

Breastfeeding is beneficial to both mother and child. While the mother’s milk is healthy and easy to digest, it also supplies antibodies that protect infants from infections. For the mother, breastfeeding improves milk production, lessens her loss of blood, and lowers her risk for breast and ovarian cancers as well as tightening the uterus after child birth.

Tennessee health officials and lawmakers actively support breastfeeding mothers. Tennessee passed a law in 2006 protecting a mother’s right to breastfeed a child 12 months or younger in any location, public or private, where the mother and child are authorized to be present; prohibiting local governments from criminalizing or restricting breastfeeding; and requiring employers in Tennessee to accommodate breastfeeding mothers at work. The Tennessee Department of Health and WIC program, along with hospitals and health providers, stress that workplaces and communities can work together to protect this important practice by establishing a breastfeeding-friendly environment.

Each of Tennessee’s local health departments has a breastfeeding advocate who can answer questions. You may find a list of county health department locations online at http://health.state.tn.us/localdepartments.htm.

World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated each year from August 1 through 7 in more than 120 countries to encourage breastfeeding and improve the health of babies around the world. For more information about this health observance, visit http://worldbreastfeedingweek.org/.


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