Joint Statement on Infant and Young Child Feeding in the Context of COVID-19 Pandemic

21 April 2020

21st April, COLOMBO. UNICEF/WHO/WFP/FAO call for ALL involved in the response to COVID-19 pandemic to protect, promote, and support the feeding and care of infants and young children and their caregivers. This is critical to support child survival, growth and development and to prevent malnutrition, illness and death.


This joint statement has been issued to help secure immediate, coordinated, multi-sectoral action on infant and young child feeding (IYCF) in line with adopted IYCF guidance in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic response.  


Children from birth up to two years are particularly vulnerable to malnutrition, illness and death. Globally recommended IYCF practices protect the health and wellbeing of children and are especially relevant in emergencies. Recommended practices are:

  1. Early initiation of breastfeeding (putting baby to the breast within 1 hour of birth);
  2. Exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months (no food or liquid other than breastmilk, not even water unless medically indicated);
  3. Introduction of age-appropriate, safe and nutritionally adequate complementary feeding from 6 months of age; and
  4. Continued breastfeeding for 2 years and beyond.


In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, the recommended IYCF practices should be protected, promoted and supported while applying appropriate respiratory hygiene during feeding, care, and contact with the infant and the young child in line with the IYCF in the context of COVID-19 brief.


Calls of interest


In line with the Infant and Young Child Feeding in the Context of COVID-19 Brief, and in consideration of the above, we signatories of this statement call on all the relevant agencies to ensure support to programmes, plans and initiatives aimed at protecting, promoting and supporting recommended IYCF practices:


  • Prioritise and identify the needs of pregnant and lactating women early on and provide adequate protection and support in line with recommended feeding practices for IYCF in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ensure that infants born to mothers with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 are provided with access to health care services and are supported in early initiation of breastfeeding, including early skin-to-skin contact, and to exclusively breastfeed, while applying the necessary hygiene precautions and ensure measures are taken in order to avoid practices that separate babies and mothers or disrupt breastfeeding. Therefore, standard infant feeding guidelines should be followed with appropriate respiratory hygiene during feeding. i.e.
  • Always wash hands with soap and water before and after contact with the infant.
  • Routinely clean surfaces, which the mother has been in contact with, using soap and water.
  • If the mother has respiratory symptoms, use of a face mask when caring for the infant is recommended, if available.
  • Maintain physical distancing with other people and avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth.


  1. Ensure the availability and continuity of nutritious, fresh food and essential staples at affordable prices for children, women, and families. Where there are identified shortfalls in local access and availability of foods, facilitate access to age-appropriate and safe, complementary foods. Families should receive support on what, when and how to feed young children at home to enable them in maintaining a healthy diet together with intake of safe and palatable drinking water for their young children.
  2. Do not call for, support, accept or distribute donations of BMS (including infant formula), other milk products, complementary foods, and feeding equipment (such as bottles and teats). Do not include purchased or donated supplies in general distribution. Required BMS supplies should be purchased (by provider or the caregiver) and provided as part of a sustained package of coordinated care based on assessed need and should be Code-compliant.
  3. Ensure pregnant and lactating women (PLW) have access to food, water, protection, psychosocial support and other interventions to meet essential needs. Consider innovative approaches for remote support in the context of isolation and confinement.
  4. Identify the nature and location of higher risk infants, children and mothers and to respond to their needs. These include (but are not limited to) low birth weight infants; wasted children, including infants under 6 months of age; children with disabilities; orphaned infants; mothers who are malnourished or severely ill; mothers who are traumatized; instances where mothers are separated from their children and Infants who are exclusively dependent on infant formula.
  5. Prioritize the uninterrupted continuation of the government’s supplementary feeding programme. Take necessary measures to address identified bottlenecks at all stages of the value chain to ensure timely distribution of Thriposha to beneficiaries.  
  6. Comprehensively incorporate Infant and Young Child Feeding in the Context of COVID-19 recommendations into all emergency preparedness planning and programming. Ensure affected population have uninterrupted supply of safe, nutritionally adequate, age-appropriate foods and include measures that support an enabling environment for the use of safe, hygienic IYCF practices.
  7. Devise a coordinated approach to strengthening social safety programming and scale up coverage as necessary to protect the most vulnerables’ economic access to food.


Particular concerns in the COVID-19 pandemic that may negatively impact infant feeding practices:


  • Decreased access to health services and IYCF support services (e.g. skilled support) due to mobility restrictions or health workers getting ill.
  • Loss of social support structures for pregnant and lactating women (PLWs) due to social distancing and fear of contact.
  • False beliefs, misinformation and misconceptions about infant and young child feeding and lack of understanding that stress or trauma does not impact milk production and that breastfeeding is safe for COVID-19 positive women.
  • Concerns for the supply chain of breastmilk substitutes (BMS), increased demand for infant formula and panic regarding the scarcity of formula resulting in needs of formula dependent infants not being met, poorly/untargeted BMS distribution and inappropriate marketing of infant formula.
  • Concerns about transmission via food, affecting complementary feeding practices and maternal dietary intake.
  • The inability to implement recommended infection prevention and control measures.
  • Concerns about loss of jobs and income resulting in reduced economic access to food, especially nutritionally adequate, age-appropriate foods required to keep mothers and their children healthy.
  • Noted rise in cases of domestic violence, putting mothers and children at risk.
  • Compromised physical access to markets and fresh produce which can lead to over-reliance on highly processed foods that are of typically low nutritional value and inappropriate for infants and young children.
  • Possible disruptions to the government’s national supplementary feeding programme (Thriposha) due to interruptions to supply and distribution channels.
  • As monsoon season approaches the risks of flooding is heightened. The onset of such events can result in internal displacement and use of temporary shelters, making it more difficult to establish and maintain breastfeeding and further restrict access to nutritionally adequate, age-appropriate foods.
  • Considerable disruptions to the food security and nutrition situation and livelihoods of farmers and traders along with the food system as a whole and on specific food value chains to a large extend.


If you have particular questions about IYCF in the context of COVID-19, please post your questions on en-

net’s discussion forum on Nutrition Programming and Covid 19:

Media contacts

Jeremy Sprigge
Communication Specialist
UNICEF Sri Lanka
Tel: +94 77 723 6548
Suzanne Wooster-Prematilaka
Communication Officer
UNICEF Sri Lanka
Tel: +94 77 316 5378

About UNICEF Sri Lanka

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