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Responses to the Tsunami disaster and infant feeding

13 January 2005

It is against UK law (click here and see Article 7) and EU directives to export baby milk with labels in the wrong language for the destination country - with good reason.

Baby Milk Action expresses its concern and solidarity with the victims of the tsunami disaster and wishes to highlight the need to protect infant lives trough adequate feeding practices.

Baby Milk Action and the Emergency Nutrition Network are concerned to hear of well-meaning individuals organising collection of baby milk to send to the areas affected by the Tsunami disaster. Such donations are not being sought by experienced disaster relief organisations. Widespread distribution of donations of baby milk in the past have undermined breastfeeding rates and in situations of poor access to safe water and sanitation, breastfeeding becomes even more important in preventing infection to infants. Where water is unsafe an artificially-fed child is up to 25 times more likely to die as a result of diarrhoea than a breastfed child. Orphans and infants separated from their mothers who may need baby milk are better served by sourcing this locally, so that labels are in the correct language, and distributing this with appropriate training on safe use.

Baby Milk Action's partners in the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) work in disasters in providing such training as well as supporting mothers with breastfeeding and helping mothers to re-lactate should this be necessary (for example, field operation modules developed by the Emergency Nutrition Network, IBFAN, UNICEF, UNHCR and WHO are being used across the region, the Breastfeeding Protection Network of India is supporting activity in the affected area, with financial support from our German IBFAN partner, and the International Code Documentation Centre in Penang is distributing information in the region - see notes).

Baby Milk Action joins other humanitarian organisations in calling for people wishing to help to do so by providing money through organisations such as the Disaster Emergency Committee or UNICEF so that appropriate support can be given and any required supplies sourced locally.

It is essential that distribution of powdered whole milk is handled carefully by government and non-governmental organisations so that it is not used inappropriately as a breast milk substitute.

As well as working to ensure donations in emergency situations are appropriate, Baby Milk Action and IBFAN have worked to ensure products are labelled in the appropriate language for the country where they are sold. In the case of Sri Lanka, Baby Milk Action ran a successful campaign supporting a government requirement that baby milk be labelled in three languages (click here for details).

For more information

Mike Brady: (UK) 07986 736179 (International) +44 7986 736179 or
Patti Rundall: (UK) 07786 523493 (International) +44 7786 523493 at Baby Milk Action.


Save the Children (UK) - statement issued in India

Notes to Editors:

  1. Article 7 of UK baby milk regulations clearly states the requirement for instructions to be in local languages. See

  2. The Indian IBFAN-Group BPNI (Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India) is directly involved on the ground helping to ensure the victims of the seaquake can benefit from the state of the art knowledge on infant feeding in situations like this one. The Arbeitsgemeinschaft Freier Stillgruppen (AFS) is also a member of IBFAN and it supports the work of BPNI with donations. Contact BPNI for details of how to send a donation.

  3. A breastfed child is less likely to suffer from gastro-enteritis, respiratory and ear infections, diabetes, allergies and other illnesses. Reversing the decline in breastfeeding could save 1.5 million lives around the world every year. Breastfeeding helps fulfil the Millennium Development Goals and has the potential to reduce under- 5 mortality by 13%.

  4. IBFAN has produced a booklet on Infant Feeding in Emergencies and has worked with the Emergency Nutrition Network on training modules for field staff (see Two training Modules for humanitarian aid workers are now available(Module 1 and 2 at

  5. The International Code Documentation Centre in Penang is distributing information on infant feeding in the region (click here to download).

  6. Donations can be made to the UK Disaster Emergency Committee at or to UNICEF at

KEY POINTS from the Operational Guidance on IFE

Every agency should develop or endorse a policy relating to infant and young child feeding in emergencies (that should be institutionalised); the policy should be widely disseminated to all staff and agency procedures adapted accordingly (Section 1).

Agencies need to ensure the training and orientation of their technical and non-technical staff, using available training materials (Section 2).

There must be a designated body responsible for co-ordination of infant and young child feeding for each emergency; that body must be resourced and supported in order to carry out specific tasks (Section 3).

Key information on infant and young child feeding needs to be integrated into routine rapid assessment procedures; if necessary, more systematic assessment using recommended methodologies can be conducted (Section 4).

Simple measures should be put in place to ensure the needs of mothers and infants are addressed in the early stages of an emergency (Section 5).

Breastfeeding and Infant and young child feeding support should be integrated into other services for mothers, infants and young children (Section 5).

Foods suitable to meet the nutrient needs of older infants and young children must be included in the general ration for food aid dependent populations (Section 5).

Donations of breast-milk substitutes, bottles and teats should be refused in emergency situations (Section 6).

Any well-meant but ill-advised donations should be under the control of a single designated agency (Section 6).

Breast-milk substitutes, other milks, bottles or teats must never be included in a general ration distribution; these products must only be distributed according to recognised strict criteria and only provided to mothers or caregivers for those infants who need them (Section 6).

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