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Natural Disaster Tips for Formula-Feeding and Breastfeeding Parents

A father hands his daughter to her mother as they evacuate from Walkers Mark Townhomes in Houston on August 30, 2017, as the fourth largest city in the US battles with tropical storm Harvey and resulting floods.
Monster storm Harvey made landfall again Wednesday in Louisiana, evoking painful memories of Hurricane Katrina's deadly strike 12 years ago, as time was running out in Texas to find survivors in the raging floodwaters. / AFP PHOTO / Thomas B. Shea        (Photo credit should read THOMAS B. SHEA/AFP/Getty Images)
Photograph by AFP/Getty Images

Natural disasters can be especially dangerous for infants and young children. This danger lies not only with flying debris or floodwaters or high winds. Even something as simple as feeding a baby can become highly stressful—and, at times, dangerous—when an emergency strikes.

This fact is on many parents' minds, as so many people are reeling from Hurricane Harvey and expecting the devastation from Hurricane Irma.

Here some tips that parents can use to help them navigate the stresses of feeding their babies during a natural disaster.

For Formula-Feeding Parents

Have you stocked up on clean water? Although the tap water in your area may normally be a safe option to mix with formula, your water supply can become contaminated following a natural disaster. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends having one gallon of water per person in your household per day, and enough water for each person for three days. Unopened bottled water is typically your safest option in an emergency. Nonetheless, if you find yourself unable to find enough water for your family—including any infants who might need it for their formula—you can also follow the CDC’s guidelines on preparing a safe emergency water supply.

Do you have some ready-to-feed formula on hand? Though they are typically more expensive, these formula options can come in handy—and might even be life-saving—if you run out of clean water. Please take caution if you are tempted to pre-mix a big batch of formula before disaster strikes. Even in the absence of an emergency, formula is generally only safe to drink for 24 hours after it has been mixed.

Do you have a sterilization plan in place? Sterilizing bottles, nipples and other formula supplies can be challenging, if not impossible, if your water supply is contaminated and your electricity is out. Try assembling a makeshift sterilizing kit before disaster strikes and follow the cleaning guidelines recommended by the CDC. Make sure to include some paper towels in your cleaning plan. If the weather is hot and the electricity is out, cloth drying towels will become mildewy fast, and you probably won’t be able to wash them anytime soon.

For Breastfeeding Parents

Storing breastmilk in your freezer? You’ve probably seen the quarter-in-the-freezer trick on social media. Simply freeze a cup of water and then place a quarter on top of it before you evacuate your home. Once you’re able to return home, check the quarter. If it’s still on top of the ice, the contents of your freezer—including your breastmilk—should be safe. That shows that the power didn't go out, making the frozen water melt. If the quarter has sunk into the ice at all, you’ll need to throw away whatever is in your freezer. Don’t take any chances: That liquid gold isn’t so golden if it’s ridden with harmful bacteria.

Are you staying hydrated, too? Don’t worry so much about whether or not you’re getting your daily whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables. Your body will continue to make breastmilk that is still nourishing and hydrating for your baby. Just make sure that you drink plenty of water and breastfeed your baby regularly in order to maintain your supply.

For All Parents and Parent Advocates

Are you washing your hands regularly? Keeping babies healthy is a top priority during a natural disaster. You can help stop the spread of harmful disease and bacteria by washing your hands regularly, especially before breastfeeding or preparing formula for your baby. If your water supply is contaminated and you can’t wash your hands with soap and water, you can use an alcohol gel instead.

And, finally, are you adding an extra dose of compassion to your advocacy? Now is not the time to shame other parents for how they feed their babies. It’s not the time to argue about which feeding method is better than the other. It’s only time to support one another with love and respect.

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