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Breastfeeding in Times of Emergency and Stress

Read about the special benefits of breastfeeding during extreme situations and stress, about how to support nursing mothers, and about the special circumstances for nourishing babies.

Breastfeeding during emergencies and war

Emergencies can be stressful for everyone, including nursing mothers. However, with the right support and information, almost every woman can breastfeed, and provide her baby and herself benefits that are often overlooked in normal times.
During this period, breastfeeding becomes particularly crucial for providing maximum protection to babies. Numerous studies from disaster areas have shown that breastfeeding enhances survival rates among breastfed infants.

Breastfeeding: unique benefits and about what we should not stress

In emergency and stressful situations, breastmilk is the cleanest and safest nourishment for babies. It is customized to meet the nutritional needs of the baby, it is always available without relying on external factors, and it is always at the right temperature.

Breastfeeding holds a distinct advantage, especially in low-hygiene environments such as shelters and crowded spaces.
Breastfeeding during emergencies is a lifesaver. It protects babies from diseases, particularly diarrhea and respiratory illnesses. Moreover, times of stress and anxiety may lead to a decrease in immune resistance. Therefore, continuing to breastfeed during such times ensures babies receive maximum protection.

In a state of extreme anxiety or fear, a perceived slowing of breast milk flow may occur. However, such a reaction, like other physical responses to anxiety and stress, is temporary and transient. Conversely, breastfeeding stimulates the production of stress-decreasing hormones that soothe both the mother and her baby. Additionally, the skin-to-skin contact during breastfeeding contributes to further calming the mother and her baby.

Immediately after childbirth, mothers may experience difficulties breastfeeding during times of stress, potentially necessitating professional support. Even if immediate success is not achieved, the situation is reversible, and it is advisable to provide ongoing support and encouragement. Additionally, seeking consultations and support from professional practitioners is possible at all times.

Supporting the mother

Household members and a supportive environment can significantly affect the breastfeeding success. Initially, support is crucial for the mother’s decision to breastfeed. She needs both encouragement and mental support in her efforts. Rather than helping with feeding and preparing formulas, take care of the mother and address her needs:

  • Attend to the mother’s physical needs by preparing nutritious and healthy food, providing drinks (preferably water), and ensuring short breaks for self-care, including relaxation breaths, physical activity, and more.
  • Offer practical assistance with other household chores, including caring for the other children.
  • Help the mother calm down through relaxation exercises, and give her time to care for herself.
  • Find solutions for women who prioritize privacy during breastfeeding.

Important facts and recommendations

  • Breastmilk production continues as long as the baby is nursing.
  • During times of tension and frequent sirens, it is advisable to set up a comfortable space in the residential secure space or communal shelter. This space should include a comfortable sitting area, drinking water, wet wipes, and healthy snacks. It should provide a sense of security when leaving the shelter is not possible for extended periods.
  • Mothers whose eating patterns have changed or are eating less as a result of an emergency situation or due to stress and anxiety can still breastfeed in a healthy way.
  • Foods that are appropriate for the nursing mother are fresh or dried fruits, nuts, almonds, whole-wheat flour crackers, and water.
  • When breastfeeding is temporarily impossible, it is advisable to pump milk using a pump or manually at a frequency equal to the number of nursing sessions. This practice helps preserve the milk, prevent congestion, avoid blockage in the milk ducts, and reduce the risk of infections.
  • You can resume nursing after stopping and transferring to formula with professional help and the right technique.

Need support? There is help available

Support for women in need of assistance with breastfeeding or information on the nutrition of babies and mothers is available through various channels:

  • Attending staff at Tipat Halav clinics or the Tipat Halav hotline at *5400 extension 9, Sunday to Thursday from 16:00 to 21:00 and Fridays from 08:00 to 13:00.
  • HMOs’ centers.
  • Additional information for nursing mothers can be found on websites such as La Leche League, the Israeli Association for the Nursing Professions, and the Israel Association of Breastfeeding Medicine – for professional staff members.
  • For mental and emotional support, contact mental health centers.
  • Mothers who have been recruited, or women who were evacuated or left their homes and are breastfeeding or pumping without access to pumps, can send an email to emergency-halavem@moh.gov.il with the subject line 'Needs a Pump'. We will try to assist in obtaining a pump for the mother.

Nourishing babies during unusual situations: the National Mother's Milk Bank

The National Mother's Milk Bank has built an infrastructure with a safety net as a backup for emergencies, including war.

The Mother's Milk Bank has sufficient milk for babies who need pasteurized and monitored milk from donors.
Recognizing the importance of breast milk during emergencies, as outlined in the publication dated 8.10.23: "Temporary Provision of Using Donor Milk from the Mother's Milk Bank During Emergencies", the bank provides donor milk to babies who meet the following criteria:

  • Babies up to six months of age in need of maternal milk donations due to the absence of their mothers resulting from the security situation (injury, abduction, or death).
  • Babies up to six months of age in need of maternal milk donations due to the recruitment of their mother.
  • Babies over 6 months to 1 year old who cannot drink formula (due to allergy or intolerance) or whose mothers are absent or recruited and who have a medical document confirming this.
  • Babies up to one year old who were injured in the war and who need breastmilk to assist in their recovery and as determined by a doctor.

To receive a donation, the family or a medical professional should contact the breastmilk bank by email: milkbank@mda.org.il, or WhatsApp: 052-6344101, or telephone: 073-2630200. A response will be provided as soon as possible, usually within one day.

In cases where breast milk is unavailable, it is crucial to adhere to safety regulations when preparing formula, following the manufacturer’s instructions and hygiene guidelines.