Why is Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies important?
Disruption and displacement of populations in emergency situations greatly impacts on the health and nutrition status of infants and young children.
During emergencies, even in previously healthy populations the rates of child mortality can soar up to 70 times higher than average and child morbidity and crude mortality rates can increase by 20% in 2 weeks due in particular to diarrhea and consequent malnutrition.
The youngest babies are the most vulnerable. The Lancet demonstrated that optimal breastfeeding and complementary feeding could reduce child mortality in children under five more than any other preventative measure2 by up to 26%. In emergencies, this potential to save children’s lives through optimal breastfeeding and complementary feeding could be even higher. For example, in emergencies, total infant mortality rate for infants under 1 year has been found to be 12-53% higher than normal.
In emergencies, feeding practices can be undermined by issues such as displacement, insecurity, lack of privacy and poor access to adequate nutrition for both mother and child. Adequate nutrition and care of infants and young children are key factors in ensuring health and survival and appropriate IYCF-E support has consequently become a major strategy in preventing and reducing child morbidity and mortality during humanitarian emergency response.
Malnutrition is one of the major threats to child survival during an emergency and for those who survive it can also have tremendous consequences on their cognitive, social, motor skill, physical and emotional development. If caught in time malnutrition can be usually be treated but this is not always the case, further management of acute malnutrition in infants is complicated by a lack of evidence and knowledge about diagnosis and the most appropriate treatment protocols in different contexts. For a myriad of reasons prevention of malnutrition must be the goal, with treatment as a safety net. The best way to prevent malnutrition is through ensuring optimal feeding and care for children through supporting exclusive breastfeeding, appropriate complementary foods, and a supportive care environment – the backbone of Nurture Project International’s infant feeding programs.