Review of policies and guidelines on infant feeding in emergencies: common ground and gaps

Disasters. 2001 Jun;25(2):136-48. doi: 10.1111/1467-7717.00166.


Recent crises in regions where exclusive breastfeeding is not the norm have highlighted the importance of effective policies and guidelines on infant feeding in emergencies. In 1993, UNICEF compiled a collection of policy and guideline documents relating to the feeding of infants in emergency situations. In June 2000 Save the Children, UK, UNICEF and the Institute of Child Health undertook a review of those documents, updating the list and identifying the common ground that exists among the different policies. The review also analysed the consistency of the policy framework, and highlighted important areas where guidelines are missing or unclear. This article is an attempt to share more widely the main issues arising from this review. The key conclusions were that, in general, there is consensus on what constitutes best practice in infant feeding, however, the lack of clarity in the respective responsibilities of key UN agencies (in particular UNICEF, UNHCR and WFP) over issues relating to co-ordination of activities which affect infant-feeding interventions constrains the implementation of systems to support best practice. Furthermore, the weak evidence base on effective and appropriate intervention strategies for supporting optimal infant feeding in emergencies means that there is poor understanding of the practical tasks needed to support mothers and minimise infant morbidity and mortality. We, therefore, have two key recommendations: first that the operational UN agencies, primarily UNICEF, examine the options for improving co-ordination on a range of activities to uphold best practice of infant feeding in emergencies; second, that urgent attention be given to developing and supporting operational research on the promotion of optimal infant-feeding interventions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Guidelines as Topic
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant Nutritional Physiological Phenomena*
  • International Cooperation*
  • Organizational Policy*
  • Refugees*
  • Relief Work / organization & administration*
  • United Nations