Baby Care in Emergency Situations
What to do if basic supplies are unavailable? Read on for tips and tricks to help get through any hurdles you may be experiencing.
Every parent should know what to do if they are in some way limited access to basic supplies for their families. We teach about emergency childbirth in our childbirth classes, touch on breastfeeding in emergencies in our breastfeeding classes, and cloth diapering in emergencies in our cloth diaper classes. But, not everyone has had an opportunity to consider these very real scenarios. Whether it's shortages due to stocking issues, like with the current coronavirus pandemic; a power outage; hurricane or tornado threats; and more, sometimes we are unable to get access to the items we need. And babies often need them in a hurry!
So let's look at a few categories of what you might need in an emergency and what you can do about it.
This is a scary one--your baby has to eat, and when under a year old, that food needs to be mainly breastmilk or formula. If the water is not safe to drink, or formula is difficult to find due to shortages, things can feel very scary very quickly. So what are your options?
- Breastfeed if you are able. Breastfeeding provides nutrition, hydration, warmth, and comfort. It's available as long as you are. The exchange between mom and baby tells your body to make antibodies specifically for what your baby has been exposed to. This help baby heal faster from any infectious illness thrown their way. In the current COVID-19 outbreak, breastfeeding has been shown to be protective and is recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). For added protection, you may consider wearing a mask while feeding if you know you are infected to reduce respiratory droplets, but the data isn't back yet on how effective or necessary this is. If you were in the process of weaning, consider putting this on hold until after the emergency incident has passed. Even a small amount of breast milk (as little as a teaspoon) provides millions of antibodies to protect your baby in this uncertain time
- Consider relactating. Did you know that your body is capable of making milk for your baby again, even if it has been some time since you nursed your baby last? In fact, some women seem to never completely stop producing! The basics of relactation: put baby to breast frequently, before any bottles or supplements. Pump after feeding and whenever a bottle/supplement is given. If you do not have access to electricity, use a manual pump; otherwise, a double electric breast pump will be the most effective. You may not get to full supply this way, at least not within a few days, but every amount of breast milk provided is less formula to worry about procuring
- Consider a milk donor or wet nurse. If you have a friend or family member who is lactating, they may be able to help, as well as organizations like Eats on Feets. For preemies and newborns, some official milk banks may be able to help as well. Although there are few pathogens and drugs that can enter breast milk in high enough quantities to harm your baby, it is always important to read about safe peer-to-peer breast milk sharing and ask important questions before accepting milk. It is safer to accept milk freely donated and not purchased when peer-to-peer
- Contact your grocery store directly. Often they are able to hold a small amount of formula for you, if you are able to get there or have it delivered
- Contact your formula manufacturer directly. They can help you to find a supplier who has stock in your area or can ship some to you directly
- Try the local food bank. Many do not restrict who can come based on income or other factors and are open to anyone who comes who has need. Call prior to arriving to see if they have formula and if there are any restrictions. Here is another list of resources for food help, including baby formula: https://www.feedingamerica.org/need-help-find-food
What NOT to do:
- Never use standard cow's milk, plant milk, or other beverages in place of breast milk or formula. These are not formulated for the nutritional needs of your baby and can cause your child to become very ill
Diapers and wipes
Emergency or not, your baby's gotta poop! And they probably have to do this a lot, especially if they are very young. If you've got multiple little ones in diapers or pull-ups, this can get particularly hairy if stores start to run out or you are unable to get to one. Hey, sometimes even in normal circumstances, you run out of diapers in the middle of the night and are unable to go out or get help to do so.
What can you do?
- Try Elimination Communication. Sound weird? It shouldn't! Many cultures practice holding small babies over toilets (or the ground) to eliminate from a very small age. We first introduced this concept to our son at 3 weeks old. He hated the feeling of being wet, so eliminating the amount of diapers he sat in with a combination of fresh air to the bum and holding him over the potty was a good combination for him. As an added bonus, when done from a young age, children can learn to understand their urges more easily when they are older and have control over their bowel movements, aiding in potty learning
- Cloth Diapers. When you think of cloth diapers, do you think of rubber pants, pins, and lots of folding? Although you can find this style of diapering out there still (flats, pins, and covers), today's cloth diapering parent has many more choices. The simplest and most like disposable versions are all-in-one styles with aplix closures. You put baby's bum in the diaper and close with the aplix tabs, just like a disposable diaper's sticky tabs! And the best part, of course, is that these diapers can be used over and over again, even for multiple children. Simply rinse the solids (unless breastfeeding exclusively--they you don't even need to do that!) into the toilet using a scraper, swishing in the bowl, or spraying with a diaper sprayer (doubles as a bidet!). Store in wet bag or diaper pail. When ready to wash, wash the diapers with your washer's quick setting and corresponding detergent. Then, bulk with wash cloths, small blankets, and other items and wash on your washer's longest heavy duty setting with sufficient detergent. That's it! There are many styles of cloth diapers to choose from, but if you are feeling overwhelmed, all-in-ones are the simplest to learn (and to get everybody on board). On the go? Just carry a wet bag with you and carry any soiled diapers home in your wet bag to be laundered later
- Cloth Wipes. Simple to use, easy to clean baby and easy to wash themselves, these are an easy fix! You can either make some yourself by cutting and sewing fabric, or you can purchase them pre-made. Cloth wipes are soft on your baby's bottom and come in many sizes. You can make a wipe solution or just spray or wet the wipe with plain water when it's time to use. Rinse off any solids into the toilet (not needed is breastfeeding exclusively) and wash in the washer with your diapers. When out, carry them dry and bring a water bottle, or carry them in a small wet bag pre-moistened with water or solution
- The T-shirt Method. In a real bind? Well, you remember that t-shirt of your partner's that you can't stand... the one with the holes and that weird logo? That t-shirt's life may be over as a shirt, but your partner can take comfort in its higher calling--poop catcher. Fold and wrap around your baby's bum. You can fasten it with a Snappi or Boingo, a diaper cover, or even just 2 safety pins. Wash like any other diaper. Everyone should know how to do this in an emergency. Thank you to old shirts, receiving blankets, and unwanted cloth items everywhere!
- Try local resources. Some food banks and other community aid programs have diapers and wipes available. Call first to know what options there are
What NOT to do:
Don't allow your child to spend long hours in a soiled diaper because you don't have more. If all else fails, it's okay for your baby to be naked in a warm enough home.
When in an emergency situation, you need to know that you can safely transport your little one with you no matter where you need to go. Sometimes, this is as simple as having a safe car seat. But other times, you may need your child physically on you to keep both of you safe. Here are some options:
- Baby carriers and wraps. If you have access to carriers and wraps you already own, that you can borrow, or that you can purchase, this is an excellent way to carry up to 3 (!!!) children on you at the same time--two newborns or very small children in a carrier or wrap on the front and an older child on your back. Even if you only have one child you are worried about, commercially available carriers provide an easy, safe way to keep your child close to your body. This allows you to travel on any surface, paved or not, to know your child is not wandering off, and, of course, to get the stress-relieving benefits of that close skin-to-skin contact, so important in these times of trouble
- Traditional carries: Did you know you can make your own baby wrap? Take a cloth you already have, preferably something around 2m long, and you can turn it in to a traditional wrap. Similar to a ring sling, but instead of rings, you tie a slip knot. You likely have something in your home already that could be quickly grabbed and adapted for this purpose if you needed it
Questions? Just ask! I am happy to help explain any of these alternatives more for anyone who is unsure. Whatever the challenge, you can make this work ❤️
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