Maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health

Feeding in exceptionally difficult circumstances

Woman breastfeeding

WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months, and sustained breastfeeding with appropriate complementary foods up to two years or beyond. Families in difficult circumstances require special attention and practical support to be able to feed their children adequately. Wherever possible, mothers and babies should remain together and be provided with the support they need to exercise the most appropriate feeding option under the circumstances.

Difficult circumstances refer to situations faced by particularly vulnerable groups such as:

  • HIV-infected mothers and their infants;
  • People suffering the consequences of complex emergencies, including natural or human-induced disasters such as floods, drought, earthquakes, war, civil unrest and severe political and economic living conditions;
  • Low birth-weight or premature infants;
  • Infants and young children who are malnourished;
  • Adolescent mothers and their infants;
  • Children living in special circumstances such as foster care, or with mothers who have physical or mental disabilities, or children whose mothers are in prison or are affected by drug or alcohol abuse.

MCA develops technical guidelines and materials for infant and young child feeding for vulnerable groups, in particular as it relates to HIV and infant feeding, infant feeding in emergency situations, feeding of malnourished children and feeding low-birth-weight and premature infants.

Children who are malnourished are often found in environments where improving the quality and quantity of food intake is particularly problematic. They need extra attention both during early rehabilitation and over the longer term. For infants and young children, continued frequent breastfeeding and, when necessary, relactation are important measures.

In addition, a recently developed home-based treatment for severe acute malnutrition is improving the lives of hundreds of thousands of children a year. Ready-to-use Therapeutic Food (RUTF) has revolutionized the treatment of severe malnutrition – providing foods that are safe to use at home and ensure rapid weight gain in severely malnourished children.