Health Information for Specific Groups

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Button Radiation Health Information for Specific Groups

  • Although anyone exposed to radiation may experience health effects, a developing fetus is the most vulnerable to the effects of radiation exposure.
  • Infants, children, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems are more vulnerable to health effects from radiation exposure than healthy adults.
  • It is important for everyone, especially these groups to follow protective action instructions and to seek medical attention after a radiation emergency as soon as it is safe to do so.
Pregnancy

Pregnancy illustration

Pregnant people should follow the same protective action instructions as everyone else. If pregnant people are advised to visit a community reception center (CRC) they should let CRC staff know about their pregnancy so that they can receive additional attention.

Contact your doctor for additional information. Your doctor can help you understand more about the risks of radiation exposure to you and to your developing baby.

How to Feed Your Baby in a Radiation Emergency

In a radiation emergency, mothers who are in the affected area might be exposed to radiation and may also be internally contaminated if they eat, drink, or breathe in radioactive material. Radioactive material can be passed to babies:

  • through breast milk of mothers with internal contamination.
  • through contaminated water mixed with infant formula.
  • while being held and fed if their caregiver has radioactive material on their skin or clothing (external contamination). Babies may swallow or breathe in these materials while feeding and can become internally contaminated.
Immediate Action Steps

Listen to local officials for the most up-to-date information about staying safe after a radiation emergency. Local officials will define and provide updates on the location of the affected area, the safety of the water for drinking and other uses, and evacuation instructions.

If you are in the affected area, take the following steps to reduce your risk of exposure and internal contamination:

  • Get inside, stay inside, stay tuned.
  • Wash yourself off (self-decontaminate) gently with soap and warm water to get radioactive material off your body as soon as possible to lower your risk of harm. Put on clean clothes.
  • Then, decontaminate pdf icon[PDF – 514 KB] your baby or child. Make sure to gently wash your child’s hands and face (especially around eyes, nose, and mouth) with soap and water or with a clean wet cloth or paper towel.
  • Put clothes and towels in a plastic bag or other sealable container. Store the bag as far away from other people and pets as possible (e.g. closet, attic, basement), to prevent exposure to radiation until local health officials tell you how to dispose of it safely.
How to Safely Feed Your Baby

Breastfeeding families and families feeding expressed breast milk
If you are in the affected area, consider temporarily stopping breastfeeding until you are evacuated. Feed your baby with one of the options below. If none of these options are possible, continue to breastfeed. It is important to keep your baby fed and hydrated.

If you have breast milk that was pumped and stored before the emergency:

  • Use previously expressed breast milk to feed your child.
  • Use a clean cloth or towel to wipe down all feeding supplies (such as bottles and pumps) that are brought into the house. Put the used cloth or towel in a plastic bag or other sealable container. Store the bag as far away from other people and pets as possible (e.g. closet, attic, basement), to prevent exposure to radiation until local health officials tell you how to dispose of it safely.
  • Use bottled water, if possible, or tap water, if local officials say it is safe, when heating water to thaw frozen milk or warm milk for feeding. You can also thaw milk in the refrigerator overnight. Learn more about thawing, warming, and feeding expressed milk.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water before feeding.
  • After each use, carefully clean all infant feeding supplies such as bottles and nipples with soap and bottled water (or tap water, if local officials say it is safe).

Use infant formula if you do NOT have breast milk that was pumped and stored before the emergency.

  • Use ready-to-feed infant formula, if possible.
  • Ready-to-feed infant formula is a sterile liquid formula that does not need to be mixed with water.
  • Use powdered infant formula if you do not have ready-to-feed infant formula.
  • Use a clean cloth or towel to wipe down all feeding supplies (including bottles and containers of infant formula) that are brought into the house. Put the used cloth or towel in a plastic bag or other sealable container. Store the bag as far away from other people and pets as possible (e.g. closet, attic, basement), to prevent exposure to radiation until local health officials tell you how to dispose of it safely.
  • Prepare powdered infant formula with bottled water if possible or tap water if local officials say it is safe to use.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water before feeding.
  • After each use, carefully clean all infant feeding supplies, such as bottles and nipples, with soap and bottled water (or tap water if local officials say it is safe).

If you temporarily stop breastfeeding:

Hand express or pump your breast milk regularly and discard it to maintain your milk supply and prevent a breast infection.

Carefully clean your pump kit parts after each use with water from a safe source (for example, bottled water or tap water, if local officials say it is safe).

If needed, connect with lactation support providers in your community who can help you manage your milk supply and create a temporary feeding plan for your child.

Breastfeeding can resume when advised by local health officials or after evacuation and self-decontamination. For additional questions or concerns, contact your baby’s doctor.

If you do NOT have any other safe food source (no previously expressed breast milk, ready-to-feed infant formula, powdered infant formula, or safe water to mix with powdered infant formula):

  • Continue breastfeeding. It is important to make sure you and your baby are hydrated and fed.
    Wash your hands, nipples, and breasts thoroughly with soap and warm water before nursing or expressing milk.

If you are advised to visit a Community Reception Center (CRC) upon evacuation, tell CRC staff how you are feeding your baby so that they can help you to feed your baby safely.

Did You Know?

Cup feeding is an alternative way to feed babies with breast milk or infant formula. This is helpful when infant feeding items cannot be cleaned properly. You can use disposable cups and then throw them away after use to protect your baby from germs that can grow in bottles and nipples.

Families feeding infant formula
If you are in the affected area, feed your baby with one of the options below.

 If you have ready-to-feed infant formula:

  • Use ready-to-feed infant formula as it is the safest option for formula fed infants during an emergency.
  • Ready-to-feed infant formula is a sterile liquid formula that does not need to be mixed with water.

If you do NOT have ready-to-feed infant formula:

  • Use powdered infant formula.
  • Use a clean cloth or towel to wipe down all feeding supplies (including bottles and containers of infant formula) that are brought into the house. Put the used cloth or towel in a plastic bag or other sealable container. Store the bag as far away from other people and pets as possible, to prevent exposure to radiation.
  • Prepare powdered infant formula with bottled water, if possible, or tap water if local officials say it is safe.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water before feeding.
  • After each use, carefully clean all infant feeding supplies, such as bottles and nipples, with soap and bottled water (or tap water if local officials say it is safe to use).

It is important to keep your baby fed and hydrated. If you do not have ready-to-feed infant formula or bottled water, use tap water to mix powdered infant formula for your baby.

If you are advised to visit a Community Reception Center (CRC) upon evacuation, tell CRC staff how you are feeding your baby so that they can help you to feed your baby safely.

Page last reviewed: March 10, 2022
Content source: National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH), Emergency Management, Radiation, and Chemical Branch