The Effect of Mass Evacuation on Infant Feeding: The Case of the 2016 Fort McMurray Wildfire

Matern Child Health J. 2018 Dec;22(12):1826-1833. doi: 10.1007/s10995-018-2585-z.


Objectives We examine the ways in which the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire evacuation affected infant feeding. Our primary objective is to understand the decisions and perceptions of primary caregivers of children age 0-36 months who evacuated from Fort McMurray, Canada. Methods We used a mixed methods approach to assess the overall impact that the evacuation had on infant feeding. Specific outcome variables for the quantitative research are: decision-making, access to support and resources, and changes in routine. Participants were recruited using a purposive sampling technique through infant feeding in emergency support groups on social media in which members were primarily evacuees from the Fort McMurray wildfire. Loglinear results include a model of feeding methods before and after the wildfire evacuation. Results Content analyses results from qualitative data support findings from the loglinear model. Specifically, the findings suggest that the evacuation was associated with a reduction in breastfeeding and an increase in use of infant formula The open-ended data revealed that caregivers experienced stress during and after the evacuation due to moving from place to place, food insecurity associated with artificial feeding, warding off unhealthy food for older children, and managing family reunification. In addition, respondents reported that breastfeeding was a source of comfort for infants and contributed to a sense of empowerment. Conclusions for Practice This study sets forth important groundwork for understanding decision-making, stress, logistics, and social factors that influence infant feeding in a large-scale evacuation event. Emergency management, health workers, and nutrition experts can provide support to families in disasters to mitigate some of the adverse impacts the evacuation may have on infant feeding.

Keywords: Breastfeeding in disasters; Infant feeding in emergencies; Wildfire evacuation.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Bottle Feeding
  • Breast Feeding*
  • Canada
  • Caregivers / psychology*
  • Disasters*
  • Female
  • Food Supply*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Milk*
  • Mothers / psychology*
  • Perception
  • Poverty / psychology
  • Qualitative Research
  • Wildfires*