By: By Malaika Ludman, MPH, CLC, Doula
In 2016, the United Nations Children’s Fund reported that at least 535 million children were living in countries affected by emergencies. Emergencies include natural disasters (i.e. hurricanes), family crises (i.e. sudden homelessness), and man-made disasters where access to infrastructure is limited. Disasters are occurring more frequently and with greater intensity and, when disaster strikes, infants and young children are most vulnerable. Diarrhea, respiratory tract infections, and malnutrition are the leading causes of illness and death among infants and young children in emergencies, and unsafe infant feeding puts this population at even greater risk.
The current response to infant feeding in disasters is not working. Donations of infant formula may be well-intentioned, but without access to clean water, fuel, a sanitary environment, and ongoing medical supervision, breastmilk substitutes are detrimental to infant health in emergencies. The best feeding option for infants in an emergency is breastfeeding. Breast Milk is safe, readily available, nutritious, and contains antibodies that protect infants from disease and death. Breastfeeding also enhances the parent-child bond, which is an important protective factor in times of stress and trauma.
To that end, Latona Giwa and Nikki Greenaway, co-founders of the New Orleans Breastfeeding Center, created Infant Ready!, a program to improve infant, maternal, and community health outcomes during and after disasters. The Infant Ready program, which is inclusive of all feeding situations, includes training for emergency responders, community outreach, and distribution of the Infant Ready Emergency Feeding Kit.
The Infant Ready Emergency Feeding Kit, formerly LacPack, was first conceived at the 2018 “Make the Breast Pump Not Suck!” Hackathon, a weekend-long convening at the MIT Media Lab to design breastfeeding-supportive technologies, products, programs and services. At the Hackathon, Infant Ready won Spectra’s Information is Power Award. The kit contains the most essential tools for safe infant feeding within the first 48 hours of a disaster, enabling families to safely feed their young children [ages 0-2] until they can access supportive infrastructure. Feeding supplies include a nursing cover, feeding cup, flange bag, cooler and cool packs, sanitizers, SOS water, and lighted kit bag. These items provide convenience, comfort, and safety. The kit also contains an educational booklet of life-saving infant feeding skills, including hand expression of breastmilk, use of breastmilk substitutes, and water safety. The Infant Ready training for emergency responders is consonant with the educational booklet, providing consistent messaging across systems.
In Louisiana, breastfeeding rates are very low, especially in the African-American community. The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, however only 20 percent of babies in Louisiana are exclusively breastfed during that critical period. This makes our infants in Louisiana vulnerable. From Hurricane Katrina, we learned that infants were disproportionately affected by the disaster, and that information and support was not readily available to ensure optimal infant feeding. While our breastfeeding rates have improved since Hurricane Katrina, there is still work to do. Infant Ready will pave the way in providing families and their supporters with the tools they need to safely feed in a disaster.
Infant Ready was officially launched on August 1, 2018, in honor of World Breastfeeding Week. That same week, Greenaway presented Infant Ready to a receptive audience of breastfeeding coalition leaders at the US Breastfeeding Committee’s 8th National Breastfeeding Coalitions Conference.
To date, Infant Ready has received grant support from the Groundswell Rapid Response Fund and Foundation for Louisiana. The program’s focus in the year ahead is to train emergency responders and shelter volunteers and distribute educational materials for parents. If you are interested in becoming a Distribution Partner, Funding Partner, or Supply Sponsor, please contact the New Orleans Breastfeeding Center today. Follow #InfantReady to learn more.
Brief author’s bio:
Malaika Ludman is a mother, birth doula, and certified lactation counselor with an educational background in global health. She is currently an Administrator for the Infant Ready program, helping to coordinate and implement the project in its start-up phase. She lives in New Orleans, LA and is passionate about improving the health and well-being of mothers and babies through positive birth experiences and appropriate infant feeding support.