Is Covid-19 affecting how young children are feeding?

11 May, 2020

Researchers at Technological University Dublin (TU Dublin) are conducting an online survey to determine how the Covid-19 crisis has affected caregivers feeding young children.

Dr Liz O’Sullivan and Dr Aileen Kennedy, both lecturers on the Human Nutrition & Dietetics and Public Health Nutrition programmes at TU Dublin, want to hear from caregivers of children aged two years or younger about their experiences of how the coronavirus restrictions are affecting them.

The researchers plan to use the data collected to strengthen the argument for the development of a National Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies Plan, which has been recommended for all countries by the World Health Organisation.

“We tend to think of natural disasters as typical emergencies, but Covid-19 is also a type of emergency,” says, Dr Liz O’Sullivan. “We know that emergencies can adversely affect how people feed their children. Breastfeeding can be undermined by a lack of support or the use of supplemental formula, or formula feeds can be improperly prepared or watered down because of low supplies. We want to find out what the Irish situation is during this crisis.”

Dr Aileen Kennedy says there have been stories about mothers finding it difficult to get help with breastfeeding and issues sourcing infant formula. “We want to find out how many people had these problems and hear about any other struggles parents or caregivers may have with feeding children.”

Dr Kennedy is also eager to hear from parents with babies in neonatal care units.  Her own youngest child was born prematurely and had a lengthy stay in hospital. “Some neonatal units are restricting the visits of parents, and we are interested in understanding how that is affecting breastfeeding. Hospitals have implemented innovative solutions, enabling parents to see their babies while physical visiting is limited, but parents may be still having challenges with feeding their child. Hearing directly from caregivers will help us understand the types of support that would have made their experience of feeding their new baby easier so that we can learn from this crisis.”

Dr O’Sullivan says the crisis may also be affecting low-income families or those relying on public transport as bulk buying food may not be an option. “We are aware that food banks, charities and schools throughout the country are delivering lunches to families, so we are keen to hear from all kinds of families all over the country about their experiences.”

The survey, open to any caregiver of a child aged two or younger, will be online for a month from Monday, 11 May and will ask some background questions, including about what children have been eating. Other questions will be about problems caregivers might have experienced with breastfeeding, formula feeding, and access to food during the coronavirus crisis.

The information collected will be essential in planning for other emergencies such as loss of electricity and services due to storms or boil water notices when the water supply is contaminated, which can be challenging for families using infant formula. Crises such as these can also affect breastfeeding mothers, as a lack of support, especially in the first few weeks of a child’s life, can hamper breastfeeding.

To take part in the survey, please visit here.

IYCF-Programming-in-the-context-of-COVID-19-Brief 30 March 2020