As Texas begins to rebound and recover from the severe winter storms of the past ten days, families are reassessing what it means to be prepared for the unthinkable.
Before this round of storms and the accompanying power and water outages that shut down huge parts of the state for extended periods of time, many of us never thought about what we would do if we suddenly had no running water to clean and sanitize our pump parts and feeding supplies.
Or if we had no access to clean drinking water to help maintain a hydration level that supports healthy milk supply.
We had never had to think about the added stress of a natural disaster taking its toll on our ability to produce milk. We hadn’t thought about the many ways that being without power complicates something as seemingly simple as feeding our babies.
So, let’s talk a little about preparation, and about what you can do now to be more prepared for these emergency situations in the future.
A good rule of thumb is to have 3 days worth of supplies stored away. There are some great lists out there for general preparedness (check your state department for lists most applicable to your part of the country). However, there is a lack of cohesive information with regard to infant feeding, hence the reason for this article.
Here are our recommendations for various emergency scenarios, as they relate to effectively pumping, breastfeeding, or combination feeding:
Create an Emergency Breastfeeding/Pumping Kit
Don't get caught completely off guard by an unforeseen emergency situation! Whether it's a short loss of power due to a thunderstorm, or a days-long loss of water or electricity due to a larger natural disaster, these supplies can help get you through with minimal disruption to your feeding routine.
- Distilled water (5 gallons minimum)
- Infant Formula (even if you exclusively breastfeed/pump, having formula on hand is a good idea)
- Manual or hand breast pump such as the Medela Harmony
- Breast pump switch kit (for converting electric pumps to manual mode)
- Power inverter (for converting your vehicle's power source into an outlet for your breast pump or other devices)
- Medela Battery Pack for your pump (the Medela battery pack fits on the Spectra and possibly other pumps as well)
- AA batteries for your battery pack (Medela's takes 8)
- Microwave sanitizing bag for bottles and pump parts
- Cooler with cold packs already in the freezer
- Breast milk storage bags that attach directly to your pump (these are pump specific, find some that fit your model)
- Breast pump cleaning and accessory wipes
- Portable Propane Camping Stove and mini propane/butane bottles (if no outdoor grill is available)
Some Emergency Scenarios and how these products can be useful:
Loss of Electricity:
A manual pump like the Medela Harmony can be a lifesaver, and a fantastic accessory to have on hand. Hand pumps are usually small, inexpensive, and portable, which makes them useful for travel as well as emergency scenarios from power outages to electric pump malfunctions! Some electric pumps have the ability to be converted to manual mode and used by hand, using a Breast Pump Switch Kit. Check your pump’s user manual to see if your pump can do this, then print out the instructions so that you have them handy if needed.
Learning and practicing effective hand expression techniques can also bring a lot of peace of mind for periods of time when you may be unable to access your pump. [Learn about hand expression here.]
Learn about options for using alternative sources to power your pump. Does your pump manufacturer make a vehicle adapter that lets you use your pump with your vehicle’s power? Can your pump run on batteries when not plugged in? If neither of these options is available to you with your pump, consider a vehicle power inverter that converts your vehicle's power source into an outlet to plug in and power your breast pump and other devices.
Need to boil water for sterilizing bottles and pump parts? An outdoor grill or portable camping grill can help you!
For more on dealing with power outages and your stored milk, see our article: Power Outages and Frozen Breast Milk
Loss of heat to your home:
Get skin to skin! Snuggle up and get cozy with your baby. Skin to skin contact promotes warmth, helps regulate your baby’s body temperature, and also helps your body release the oxytocin necessary to release milk. Stress hormones can interfere with oxytocin release, which can inhibit your milk letdown and result in a temporary supply drop. Skin to skin can help relieve this.
Limited or no water:
Consider a pump system that allows you to pump milk directly into sterile storage bags so you don’t have to worry about washing and sterilizing bottles if you lose access to clean running water. If bottled water isn’t available and you need to wash pump parts or mix formula, bring the water that you do have to a rolling boil for at least a full minute to help remove impurities. Allow it to cool before using for cleaning or mixing with formula. If your area goes under a boil water notice and the times for boiling are different than the times listed here, make sure to boil your water for the amount of time recommended by your water authority.
If water is completely unavailable, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol to clean your hands before you handle your pump or pump parts. Keeping a small package of cleaning wipes on hand is a good idea that can help you clean your pump parts in between pumping sessions if soap and water aren’t available.
Sterilize bottles/pump parts in the microwave. Place the bottles in a microwave-safe bowl with a lid (or put a plate over the top of the bowl to act as a lid if one isn’t available) and a small amount of water in the microwave for five minutes. ***This is not a substitute for washing with soap and water or using cleaning wipes, but will help you sterilize your clean containers with minimal water.
***The information provided on our website is intended solely for general educational and informational purposes only. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician for any questions you may have regarding your or your child’s medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have received in this information.***