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Publication #FAR0430

Breastfeeding during Disaster1

Donna Davis2

Figure 1. 
[Click thumbnail to enlarge.]

As we've learned over the past couple of years, disaster can strike anyone, anywhere, and anytime. A natural disaster, whether hurricane, tornado, flood, or tsunami, can devastate areas and leave families without resources, sometimes for long periods of time. And while people of all ages suffer, infants can be at far greater risk. However, mothers can save their infants' lives and protect them from illness by simply breastfeeding, even if they haven't been breastfeeding their baby.

While medical and nutrition experts have long supported breastfeeding as the optimal way to nourish an infant, during disasters when the risk of contaminated water increases dramatically, breastfeeding can be even more critical. Breastmilk protects infants from respiratory illness and diarrhea, problems that can become fatal to a vulnerable infant displaced by disaster. Experts say breastfeeding can also "promote psychological health and comfort during stressful times. Human milk reduces pain and promotes more rapid healing after injuries and infections" (La Leche 2006a).

Even mothers who have not been breastfeeding can start up to 6 months after giving birth. According to the La Leche League, if a mother has given birth within five days, she "can have a full milk supply quickly by breastfeeding the baby, every two to three hours or more frequently" (La Leche League, 2006a, ¶ 7). Even up to six months after giving birth, a mother can relactate (La Leche League, 2006a)!

Since breastmilk is mostly water, mom should stay hydrated (La Leche League, 2006b). For more information on breastfeeding during emergencies, go to our website at or to

Listening, learning, and living together: it's the science of life. "Family Album" is a co-production of University of Florida IFAS Extension, the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, and of WUFT-FM.

To listen to the radio broadcast:


La Leche League International. (2006a). Breastfeeding during emergencies. Retrieved March 20, 2007, from

La Leche League International. (2006b). When an emergency strikes, breastfeeding can save lives, part 2. Retrieved March 20, 2007, from

United States Department of Health and Human Services. (2005). Disaster or emergency preparedness for women. Retrieved June 20, 2006, from [17 August 2012].



This document is FAR0430, one of a series of the Family Youth and Community Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Broadcast as program 463. Created July 2006. Published on EDIS March 2012. In the interest of time and/or clarity, the broadcast version of this script may have been modified. Visit the EDIS website at


Donna Davis, senior producer, Family Album Radio, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.