The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) updated its website last week to clearly state that Breastfeeding Resources are eligible for financial assistance for families affected by disasters – a message from all the more crucial as parents face a nationwide shortage of infant formula.
The clarification comes during the Formula Crisis, the start of Atlantic hurricane season and as the western United States faces historic wildfires.
FEMA’s updated guidelines follow a push by Illinois Democratic Rep. Lauren Underwood and Senator Tammy Duckworth to make breastfeeding more accessible to vulnerable families.
“During a natural disaster, people go through some of the most difficult days of their lives. But for a nursing mother, it can also mean a loss of essential equipment to feed a child and maintain health,” Underwood said in a press release Tuesday. “I focus on making sure breastfeeding parents have the breastfeeding support they need at all times, especially in times of disaster. »
Duckworth also welcomed the move. “I know how hard it is to be a new mom, so I can’t imagine having to worry about where my baby’s next bottle will come from in times of crisis as well,” the senator said in a statement sent. via email at 19. “In the wake of a tornado, flood or any other type of natural disaster, it’s critical that survivors have access to what they need for their families – and for the breastfeeding mothers, it means access to lactation support.”
Parents can receive breastfeeding resources through FEMA’s Critical Needs Assistance, which can provide eligible survivors with a one-time payment of $500 for immediate life-saving and life-saving necessities. Breastfeeding supplies are also eligible for FEMA medical and dental expenses. This has always been the case, said FEMA press secretary Jeremy Edwards, but added that the changes to the website clarify this policy.
The agency’s website states that for medical expenses, claimants must provide “appropriate supporting documentation (i.e. prescription, signed statement from health care provider)” to demonstrate medical necessity. for devices and support. This is often what families can do to obtain breast pumps and other supplies through insurance and Medicaid plans, though accessing these documents or a provider may be more difficult the next day. of a disaster.
FEMA’s updates are an important first step in helping families in an emergency, said Tina Sherman, senior campaign director for Maternal Justice at MomsRising, one of several advocacy groups that have lobbied for extended assistance with breastfeeding. It’s unclear whether the documentation requirement will be an additional hurdle for some needy families, but Sherman said she “hopes they’ll iron out those pieces and make sure there’s no trouble.” barriers for parents.
The Underwood team said FEMA is also committed to providing user-friendly information on its website and materials to families about eligible breastfeeding aids, providing new training to the team of FEMA Disaster Survivor Assistance on what is considered eligible and to clarify its Individual Assistance Program and Policy Guide in 2023 with additional details on financial assistance.
These updates address the subject matter of a bill that Duckworth and Underwood introduced in February. The Delivering Essentials to Mothers Amid Natural Disasters Act, or DEMAND Act, directs FEMA to manufacture breast pumps and other breastfeeding supplies, as well as services by breastfeeding support specialists, eligible for a financial aid. It also aims to streamline and standardize the process for those seeking help. Under the bill, lactation support providers would be defined to include lactation consultants, lactation counsellors, breastfeeding counselors and lactation educators.
DEMAND Act advocates said the old FEMA guidelines were confusing and did not explicitly state whether breastfeeding resources were eligible for financial assistance. And protecting breastfeeding is even more essential now, advocates say, because the country’s current shortage of formula milk could make it harder to feed babies when families have to evacuate or are displaced due to disasters.
Without adequate support in place for breastfeeding parents, disasters have been shown to change the way people feed their infants. Sarah DeYoung, an assistant professor at the University of Delaware and a disaster researcher, studied the effects of mass evacuations on infant feeding during the 2016 Fort McMurray wildfire in Canada and found that it there was a decline in breastfeeding and an increase in formula feeding after the disaster.
DeYoung points out that there are an array of ways to feed infants. In general, formula can be a healthy and nutritious supplement for babies, but in the context of natural disasters, it can be less safe to feed them formula. “The bottle and the nipples that adorn the bottle can be difficult to clean and sanitize,” she said. “This introduces a risk of gastrointestinal illness and diarrhea which could lead to dehydration and all sorts of other complications, even malnutrition and death in disasters.”
DeYoung said FEMA clarifying its policy is “a good start” to ensure breastfeeding parents get the support they need. “It’s a very overwhelming process for survivors and people affected by disasters and so to have this part that would allow for provisions, or any kind of financial support for supplies for families breastfeeding their babies, I think that’s is amazing and wonderful,” she said. .
Support, however, is still lacking at evacuation centers to accommodate all the different ways parents feed their infants and children, DeYoung said. “These people definitely need help with feeding their babies, whether it’s lactation support or even being able to sanitize bottles in communal shelters,” she said. “I’ve seen several shelters that didn’t have space to sanitize bottles. And that’s a problem because that means babies can get sick. So it’s about thinking about the wide variety of needs families.
Monica Esparza, executive director of the New Mexico Breastfeeding Task Force, said the Calf Canyon-Hermits Peak Fire, already the largest wildfire in state history, prompted the non-profit organization to open a breastfeeding hotline and self-distribute emergency infant feeding kits, which include hand pumps and milk storage bags.
They were inspired by the work of the Birthmark Doula Collective in New Orleans, which helps parents feed infants safely during hurricane season, and worked with them to distribute some of their materials on birthing practices. safe infant feeding to displaced families. In contingency planning, “lactation support has historically not been viewed as something that needs to be prioritized,” Esparza said.
This assistance from FEMA for breastfeeding supplies and support is much needed to help families in New Mexico, Esparza said. “I know it was difficult for us to figure out how to reach these families because they were displaced during the wildfires,” she said. When his organization first contacted organizations working in disaster response to offer them their emergency food kits, they were told they could get lost in the whirlwind of donations. So FEMA, which already has processes in place to distribute supplies, will make it easier and more accessible to supply, she said.
She added: “I hope they will also work and partner with the community organizations that are already on the ground to do some of this work.”