Infant feeding practices in complex emergencies: A case study approach

Mary E. O'Connor, Frederick M. Burkle, Karen Olness

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


The majority of deaths associated with complex emergencies are attributed to infants and children under the age of five years. Most of these deaths are related to preventable diseases such as malnutrition, diarrhea, and malaria. Infant feeding emergencies have emerged as a major factor in complex emergencies. This paper reviews the current information relative to infant feeding, and uses four case studies as educational tools for the management of infant feeding emergencies. Child mortality rates in refugee population have been linked directly to protein-energy malnutrition (PEM). Breast feeding has many advantages over all other forms of feeding for children up to the age of two years of age. These advantages are discussed in detail in this paper. In addition, the appropriate and inappropriate uses of breast-milk substitutes (BMS) are discussed. Breast feeding also may play a role in the spread of HIV infections from the mother to the infant. However, in the setting of complex emergencies in the developing world, the risk of an infant dying of malnutrition and infection when not breastfed is likely to be greater than is the risk of death due to HIV acquisition through breastfeeding. The physiology of lactation is reviewed with particular reference to the roles of prolactin, oxytocin, and the feedback inhibitor of lactation (FIL) hormone. No medications have been demonstrated to augment milk production that can be used in a practical sense in complex emergencies. Lastly, the principles promulgated by the WHO and UNHCR for the feeding of infants and children in emergencies and for milk powder distribution are summarized.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)231-238
Number of pages8
JournalPrehospital and disaster medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2001


  • breast feeding
  • breast-milk substitutes
  • children
  • complex emergencies
  • infants
  • infection
  • lactation
  • malnutrition
  • mortality
  • physiology
  • protein-energy malnutrition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Emergency Medicine
  • Emergency


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