September is National Preparedness Month and during that month the United States Breastfeeding Committee provides information and resources related to feeding your infant and young child during an emergency. While it is obviously not September, the recent international disasters and emergencies have gotten me thinking about preparing my family in the event we are affected by an emergency or natural disaster.
In US and most of the developed world we often take things like electricity, clean water, and access to stores for granted. In an emergency, one or all of those services may not be available, and often become unavailable with very little notice. Having an area of your home with emergency supplies can help alleviate not only some of the stress of being in an emergency situation, but also knowing that you are prepared can also help decrease anxiety about a potential emergency.
As I started to research this topic, I have found many, many resources on feeding your infant and young child in an emergency. See the “more info” section at the bottom of the article.
Ready.gov has an extensive information on their website of emergency supplies to keep in your home, car, and at work. It includes things like batteries, a flashlight, canned food, water, cash, medications, tools, and much more.
Families of infants and toddlers should also consider keeping backups of the following items in their emergency kit:
- Sturdy and Comfortable Baby Carrier
- Blankets & warm clothes if you are in an area that is prone to cold weather or snow
- Hats, sunscreen, warm weather clothes if you are in a season or area that gets very hot
- Pacifiers, favorite stuffed animals or blankets, other comforting items
- Games and other fun distractions
- Any special medications or supplements that your baby takes
- A check list of equipment your baby needs, like plagiocephaly helmets, braces, oxygen, etc so you can grab quickly
- Diapers, wipes, diaper cream, bags for dirty diapers
- Shelf stable food for 6+ months
Feeding Your Baby or Toddler in an Emergency
Since infants and babies rely exclusively on breastmilk or formula for at least the six months of their life, and often partially for a significant time after that, special consideration should be taken to make sure that you have what you need on hand to provide nutrition for your baby. During an emergency breastmilk nourishes, protects against illness and dehydration and provides comfort. There are feeding challenges for families that rely on formula, but there are ways to prepare for an emergency situation to ensure that you are able to safely feed your baby.
If you are breastfeeding with no reliance on pumping or supplementation with formula or donor milk, there is very little preparation you need to do in terms of feeding your child. Here is some additional information on breastfeeding in an emergency. Be sure to include the following items as needed:
- Extra food and water to keep you hydrated and energetic
- Soap or hand wipes
- Nipple creams or pads
- Medications, supplements, accessories related to breastfeeding or postpartum
If the mother is unable to breastfeed, there are options to explore to continue providing your baby with breastmilk. Pumped donor milk from another breastfeeding mother or even wet nursing will provide your child with the optimal nutrition and protection.
Mixed or Exclusively Formula Feeding
In an emergency formula feeding has been associated with an increased risk of illness and mortality because there is often a lack of clean water and sanitary conditions needed to prepare formula, and clean and store bottles and other accessories. However, with the proper preparation, you will be able to successfully and safely feed your infant formula in an emergency. The CDC recommends:
- At least three days of Ready-to-Use Infant Formula (recommended) OR
- Unopened can of powered formula
- Additional bottled water- enough to make at least 3 days of formula PLUS bottled water for washing bottle parts and hands
- Enough bottles & nipples for three days, already sterilized and sealed in a plastic bag
- Soap and detergent for washing hands, bottles, and preparation surfaces
- A preparation surface or bin
Pumping and Storing Milk
Many families rely on pumping to feed their babies, and it can be difficult to pump during an emergency, especially if there is no electricity to operate your pump. Here are some suggestions for pumping families:
- Learn To Hand Express
- Cups & spoons for expression or feeding
- At least three days worth of clean and sterilized bottles and nipples, sealed in a plastic bag
- Extra water & soap for washing hands and cleaning pump parts
- Consider a car power adapter for your pump or keep a hand pump in your kit
Keeping Your Freezer Stash When the Power Is Out
Check out KellyMom’s post on what to do with your freezer stash if the power is out or if you have to evacuate your home with or without your stash. She suggests:
- Use a generator to power you freezer if you have access to one, even if it’s for a only a few hours at a time.
- If you are evacuating with your stash, pack a cooler as full as possible and use extra ice or newspaper to fill in the gaps. Avoid opening the cooler as much as possible
- Add dry ice or ice packs, or ice cubes to your freezer and avoid opening it as much as possible. (do this also if you are evacuating without your stash)
More Information & Resources
- CDC Disaster Planning, Infant & Child Feeding
- Australian Breastfeeding Association
- United States Breastfeeding Committee on Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies
- Kelly Mom Infant Feeding in Emergencies
- La Leche League Breastfeeding in an Emergency
- La Leche League Breastfeeding in An Emergency (multilingual)
Author: Renee Corbino
Renee keeps Balanced Birth Support organized and amazing as the Administrative Manager. She lives in Northern Virginia with her awesome fire fighting husband and two cute little boys. She is a breech birthing mama and supporter of empowering births.