Common Myths about Breastfeeding in Emergencies

Breastfeeding in Emergencies
Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Many people have heard that breastfeeding is difficult, especially in emergency situations. Some of these concerns are based on experience and some are deeply held but mistaken beliefs.

Here are some common myths and the information to help address them:

MYTH 1: Malnourished mothers cannot breastfeed

A malnourished mother can breastfeed her child in virtually all cases. However, she should be provided with extra food and fluids to rebuild her own nutrient stores and be encouraged to breastfeed the infant very frequently. Moderate malnutrition has little or no effect on milk production. Milk production is only likely to be reduced if a mother is severely malnourished; then the woman herself would need immediate feeding and extra food while continuing breastfeeding. "Feed the mother and let her feed the baby" is the key approach. It is safer, easier and less expensive to give the mother more food than to expose the infant to the risks associated with breastmilk substitutes.

MYTH 2: Stress prevents mothers from producing milk

Stress does not prevent milk production or make milk "dry up" but it may slow the release of milk from the breasts. This can result in babies being 'fussy' when breastfeeding. Mothers and aid workers may think that there is not enough breastmilk. Frequent breastfeeding will help the mother and baby to get over this and ensure the baby receives enough. Also, breastfeeding produces hormones that have a calming effect on the mother and baby, which can be helpful in this situation. 

MYTH 3: The mother thinks she is not producing enough milk to feed her baby

A mother produces enough milk to feed her baby if she breastfeeds frequently and for as long as the baby wants at each feed. Her breasts may seem soft and 'empty' but they are producing milk. 

MYTH 4: Babies with diarrhoeal disease need water or tea

Breastmilk contains about 90% water. Exclusive breastfeeding provides all the water, nutrition and immunology a baby needs, without risk of contamination. Feeding an infant water can introduce disease-causing bacteria and other contaminants, especially if safe water is scarce or unavailable. It is only in the case of severe diarrhoea that infants may need rehydration fluids in addition to breast milk. 

MYTH 5: Mothers cannot resume lactation once breastfeeding has stopped

Women who have breastfed in the past or whose breast milk production has diminished can breastfeed again. Increased skin-to-skin contact and frequent access to the breast helps to increase milk production and enables mothers to resume full breastfeeding, which can be critical for babies during emergencies. Skilled help and encouragement for the mother is also important. It can be easier for a mother to relactate when an infant is less than six months old, but previously breastfed infants as old as 12 months can also begin breastfeeding again.

Check out ways that World Vision protects and supports breastfeeding and Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies.