Disaster Planning: Infant and Child Feeding

Image of mother breastfeeding her baby over background of palm trees blowing in heavy winds

Natural disasters, such as hurricanes, floods, wildfires, earthquakes, and tornados, can make it hard for parents and caregivers to feed their infants and young children safely. Follow these tips to feed your child safely when disaster strikes.

For Parents and Caregivers

In the event of a natural disaster, be prepared for challenges, which may include power outages, unhealthy living spaces, and unsafe water. Always check with local authorities on the status of the drinking water and follow boil water advisories. The following tips provide specific information for how to feed your young child safely during an emergency.

Cover: Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies (IYCF-E) Toolkit

CDC’s Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies (IYCF-E) Toolkit provides information and resources for emergency preparedness and response personnel, families, and the public to ensure that children are fed safely when disaster strikes. Learn more.


Breastfeeding remains the best infant feeding option in a natural disaster situation. Breast milk helps protect babies from diseases such as diarrhea and respiratory infections and provides the calories and nutrients babies need. This protection is especially important during natural disasters when contaminated water and unsanitary environments can increase the risk of disease. Before a disaster happens, breastfeeding mothers can make a plan [PDF-1.3 MB] and be prepared.

  • Wash your hands before feeding your infant. If soap and safe water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Learn how to express breast milk by hand. If there is a power outage, you may not be able to use your electric breast pump.
  • Continue breastfeeding in emergencies.
  • During and after a disaster, stay with your child. Staying together makes it much easier to continue breastfeeding.

Formula Feeding

If you need help obtaining nutritious food, see resources at USDA Nutrition Assistance Program. You can also call the USDA National Hunger Hotline at 1–866–3–HUNGRY or 1–877–8–HAMBRE to find resources such as meal sites, food banks, and other social services.

  • Wash your hands before preparing formula and before feeding your infant. If soap and safe water are not available for handwashing, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • If you formula feed your child, provide ready-to-use infant formula (p. 45) [PDF-836KB] if available. If ready-to-use infant formula is not available, it is best to use bottled water to prepare powdered formula or concentrated formula when tap water is unsafe.
  • If bottled water is not available, boil water for 1 minute and let it cool before mixing with formula. Only use treated water to prepare formula if bottled or boiled water is unavailable.
  • If your baby is younger than 2 months old, was born prematurely, or has a weakened immune system, consider taking extra precautions to safely prepare powdered infant formula.

Breastfeeding and Formula Feeding

  • If you already combine breastfeeding and formula feeding, you may wish to breastfeed more often to increase your breast milk supply and reduce reliance on formula.
  • Always clean infant feeding items with bottled, boiled, or treated water and soap before each use. If you cannot clean infant feeding supplies safely, children can lap up milk from a disposable cup, if available. Throw out bottle nipples or pacifiers that have been in contact with floodwater.

For Emergency Relief Workers

First responders, community health workers, and other volunteers should consider training to understand the feeding needs of infants and young children. If you are an emergency relief worker, keep this Breastfeeding Support Checklist for Relief Workers (p.3-4) [PDF-1.3 MB] on hand and consider the following:

Create a Safe Space for Breastfeeding Families

  • Keep families together.
  • Create safe, private areas for breastfeeding women to nurse their infants.
  • Reassure mothers that they can and should continue to breastfeed and should offer the breast as much as their infants want.

It’s All About Access

  • Make pregnant and lactating women one priority group for access to food and water.
  • Be ready to connect mothers and caregivers to lactation support providers if they need help.

Cleanliness Is Key

  • Make disposable cups available, since bottles and nipples can be hard to clean effectively when there is limited access to clean water.
  • If there is clean water, ensure access to items like a washbasin, dish soap, cleaning brushes, and a mesh bag to hang dry infant feeding items.
  • Educate families about how to clean infant feeding items.

Things To Avoid

  • Do not donate breast pumps. Without power, mothers cannot use an electric breast pump or safely refrigerate their expressed milk. Furthermore, keeping pump parts clean is an additional challenge when the water is unsafe.
  • Do not donate powdered infant formula or other breast milk substitutes. Relief organizations should only provide ready-to-use infant formula to infants who are already formula feeding or have had breastfeeding interrupted in certain situations.

For Healthcare Providers

In addition to your basic emergency preparedness training, explore other resources, including:

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