Virtual Environmental and Humanitarian Adviser Tool – (VEHA Tool) is a tool
to easily integrate environmental considerations in humanitarian response. Field Implementation guidances are useful for the design and execution of humanitarian activities in the field.

back to activity

VEHA - Field Implementation Guidance

Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies
Support for appropriate IYCF in Emergencies
Breastfeeding and complementary feeding

Breastfeeding and complementary feeding


Environmental factors causing/contributing to the needs and affecting the humanitarian activity

Donation of breastmilk substitutes (BMS) is common during emergencies and this undermines breastfeeding and also contributes to environmental degradation. IYCF-E must be included as one of the first activities of response and there is an opportunity to integrate IYCF-E with other sectors. Breastmilk is a renewable resource that is environmentally friendly, produced without pollution, and consumed with a minimal ecological footprint. In order to demonstrate the important role of breastfeeding in ensuring infant health and minimal environmental footprint, it must be promoted in emergency response, avoiding the importation of BMS. However, it is also important to acknowledge that some children cannot be breastfed (for various reasons).

Nutritional support and micronutrient supplementation for pregnant and lactating women affected by an emergency are crucial, together with proper counseling to ensure community support and acceptance. However, it is also important to acknowledge that some children cannot be breastfed (for various reasons).

Gender, age, disability and HIV/AIDS implications

Women need support in understanding the importance of breastfeeding on health and also on the environment, and how breastfeeding substitutes can harm both health and the environment.


Environmental Impact Categories

Air pollution
Soil pollution
Water pollution
Climate change
Natural resource depletion
Cultural acceptance
Impact on wellbeing / mental health
Water depletion

Summary of Impacts
Summary of Potential environmental impacts
  • Potential for infant sickness, malnutrition, diarrhoea, and disease spread
  • Potentially contaminated water
  • Additional travel for treatment and impacts on household income, care of other children, and potentially harmful environmental coping strategies.
Impact detail
Detailed potential environmental impact information
  • The occurrence of malnutrition is usually a sign that there is something wrong in the environment – drought, flood, war, and displacement or other disasters causing crops, livelihoods, and markets to fail. However, it can sometimes be an indicator that a community has been discouraged from breastfeeding and malnutrition may be occurring due to water-borne diseases from using contaminated water for breast milk substitutes.
  • Where infants are not receiving sufficient nutrition from breastfeeding, they are likely to become sick. This can lead to diarrhoea and disease spread.
  • Where there is malnutrition there is often contaminated water or severe water shortages.
  • Malnutrition quickly leads to impaired physical & mental development. These impacts can increase the demands on medical and public health and can leave a community vulnerable for one or several generations, which tends to make environmental recovery more difficult.
  • Additional travel for treatment and impacts on household income, care of other children, and potentially harmful environmental coping strategies such as cutting of plants for food, and trees for firewood.


Summary of environmental activities

1 – Support women with breastfeeding difficulties

2 – Counselling on how to adopt/include breastfeeding

3 – Support to breastfeeding mothers in understanding impacts of the environment on breastfeeding and impacts of breastfeeding susbstitutes on the environment

Detailed guidance for implementing suggested environmental activities

1 – Example message to include: BREASTFEEDING is inclusive, sustainable, equitable and environmentally friendly, life-saving, and economy-driving. Refer to . The main activity will be to support mothers in overcoming breastfeeding difficulties – counseling on how to adopt/include breastfeeding.

2 – In communication activities: A ) ensure the promotion of proper disposal of packing and waste is part of the key messages developed for new resources introduced (new types of food, RUTF, MNPs), food supplements.

B) include key messages on the cultivation of fresh fruit and vegetables, the consumption of micronutrient-fortified foods, or the purchase of micronutrient-rich foods from local markets.

C) develop key messages for cooking techniques that reduce energy usage and cooking times. However, it is to be noted, animal-based foods are the best source of nutrients for infants.

D) Include environmental considerations into your advocacy messages to governments.

3 – When working in high/middle-income countries/groups contexts, global dietary patterns need to move towards more plant-heavy diets, mainly due to the disproportionate impact of animal agriculture on biodiversity, land use, and the environment. Such a shift, coupled with the reduction of global food waste, would reduce demand and the pressure on the environment and land, benefit the health of populations around the world, and help reduce the risk of pandemics. With farming practices that are more nature-friendly, designed to support biodiversity, promote limiting the use of inputs, and replacing monoculture with polyculture farming practices. Dietary change is necessary to enable land to be returned to nature, and to allow widespread adoption of nature-friendly farming without increasing the pressure to convert additional natural land to agriculture.

Lessons Learnt
Lessons from past experiences

Nutritional advice given in Darfur included training and demonstration on personal hygiene and on disease transmission from the addition of water to babies’ milk. Support was given on improving mothers’ nutrition and fluid intaking and breastfeeding support. Infant sicknesses reduced.

Activity Measurement
Environmental indicators/monitoring examples

The number of mothers supported to start or return to breastfeeding.

Activity Status
Main Focus
Focus of suggested activities
  • Prevention of environmental damage
  • Mitigation of environmental damage
  • Environmental enhancement
Resource implications (physical assets, time, effort)

Time for planning and consulting and getting to know local cultural norms and behaviours and designing appropriate messages that are likely to be well accepted by the community. Intensive consultation is required.

to top
icon-menu icon-close icon-account icon-arrow icon-down icon-back icon-pointed-arrow icon-left icon-up icon-bookmark icon-share twitter facebook2 printer envelope icon-close-alt icon-top icon-loading icons / login