The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) is one of the first known Canadian communities to adopt an Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies (IYCF-E) policy thanks to funding from a Red Cross Wildfire Recovery grant.
A coalition between the Canadian Lactation Consultants Association, INFACT Canada, the Alberta Breastfeeding Committee, La Leche League Canada and the Breastfeeding Action Committee of Edmonton was formed during the wildfire evacuation in 2016 to provide feeding support to thousands of children under the age of two.
Michelle Branco co-founder and clinical lead of SafelyFed Canada said they had to work quickly to help families once evacuation started.
“We had some contacts in the city and knew that it was a young city with a lot of young children and a lot of babies and pregnant moms.”
She said they created a 1-800 helpline with the Canadian Lactation Consultants Association and conducted site assessments at reception centres and temporary accommodations.
As recovery started, the coalition recommended that experts be a part of emergency planning to ensure adequate supplies and support for families in future emergencies.
Over the past 11 months SafelyFed Canada, the Women and Baby Care Association of Wood Buffalo, Emergency Social Services (ESS) and Alberta Health Services have been working together to see where response can be improved.
A child-baby unit has been created for the reception and group lodging centre of ESS. They’ve also stopped the donation of formula due the risk of parents receiving the wrong products.
Branco said from a preparedness perspective, a breastfeeding family is easier to accommodate in terms of housing and needs for health services and supplies than a family who is bottle feeding.
“Every family has to assess where they are at any given time, but certainly a family who has an exclusively bottle feeding baby under six months does need to have a preparedness kit that includes that baby’s feeding needs.”
She also suggested at least three days worth of diapers, water and food and to reassess often as the needs of babies change rapidly in the first two years.
An application for a second phase to help support further implementation will be submitted to the Red Cross in the near future.
Around 3000 children under two were evacuated in 2016, 900 of them were entirely breastfed.
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