Infants and young children are especially vulnerable during emergencies. It is important to be prepared with a plan for how you will feed your infant in the event you lose power, access to clean/running water, or need to evacuate your home.
The way you prepare for infant feeding during an emergency depends on how you feed your baby. Find guidance below for breastfeeding and formula feeding.
Breastfeeding During Emergencies
Breastfeeding is clean, safe and requires no electricity or running water, which makes it the best infant feeding option in an emergency. To keep your milk supply, it is important for you to continue breastfeeding your infant throughout an emergency. Your body can continue to breastfeed even if you are sick, hungry, or experiencing stress. Breastfeeding can protect your baby from disease and malnutrition. This is especially important during natural disasters when unsafe water and living areas can increase the risk of disease. Breastfeeding also helps lower pain levels in babies and can help keep them calm.
Preparing for an emergency
- Continue to breastfeed.
- Learn how to hand express. For more information on hand expressing see Breastfeeding Basics. If there is a power outage, you may not be able to use your electric breast pump.
- If you pump and have a hand pump/electric pump, plan to evacuate with both or by adding a hand pump to your emergency kit.
- Add an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol in your emergency kit.
During an emergency
- Stay with your child and continue breastfeeding.
- If you regularly breastfeed and supplement with formula, breastfeed more often during an emergency to reduce the challenges that you may face preparing clean and safe formula.
- Wash your hands each time before you breastfeed. If you cannot wash your hands with soap and clean water, disinfect your hands with hand sanitizer.
- If you need to evacuate and are staying in a shelter, tell the shelter workers that you are breastfeeding and ask for a quiet area to feed your baby or express milk if that makes you more comfortable.
- If you regularly use a breast pump, express your milk by hand at the same rate or more frequently than you pump at home. If you express less milk during an emergency than regularly, your supply may lessen. Hand expressing does not require equipment or sanitization besides a clean container and washed hands. You may want to try latching your baby at this time if you have previously only pumped. Some babies will latch to the breast if given the opportunity, even if they have not latched previously. Contact Public Health for more help with latching if needed.
- If you have time to safely collect your milk, call ahead to your destination or any overnight stops along the way to see if they have freezer space for your milk.
Safe use of frozen breast milk in an emergency
Frozen breastmilk may be used in an emergency, provided it has been kept frozen, transported safely, and has not spoiled. See these tips for preserving your frozen breastmilk in an emergency.
Preparing your freezer for an outage
If you freeze breastmilk, there are things you can do to prepare for potential power outages, such as:
- Before a storm, turn the fridge/freezer temperature control to the coldest setting.
- Make sure that your freezer is as full as possible with your milk in the centre. A full freezer stays frozen for much longer (48 hours) than a partially full freezer (24 hours).
- Fill empty space in the freezer with crumpled paper. This may help to reduce air flow.
- Add full water bottles in empty spaces which can freeze before power outage to help maintain coldness.
- Keep the freezer door completely closed once the freezer has been prepped. During a power outage, limit the number of times the fridge/freezer door is opened. If you must open the fridge or freezer door, try to limit how long the door stays open.
Packing frozen milk for evacuation
- Use a well-insulated cooler that will hold your milk.
- Line the bottom of your cooler with paper.
- Place your milk bags in the cooler.
- Fill any extra space with more crumpled paper. Packing your cooler as tightly as possible ensures that it stays cold for as long as possible.
- Place another layer of paper on top of the milk.
- Place frozen gel packs or ice blocks on top of the paper.
- Consider sealing your cooler with duct tape to improve the seal and prevent it from opening and spilling out the milk, if knocked over.
- Keep the cooler closed until you have reached your destination.
Safe consumption and refreezing of breast milk
When frozen milk has been out of a freezer for any length of time, check to see if there are any ice crystals that remain in the bags. If there are any ice crystals at all, it may be refrozen.
If there are no longer ice crystals in the milk, current guidelines recommend that this milk be used within 24 - 48 hours (24 hours if baby was born premature or has immune system issues that both require stricter precautions) and not refrozen.
Formula Feeding During Emergencies
Prepare for formula feeding in an emergency by creating an emergency kit that contains all the supplies you will need to feed your infant with formula throughout an emergency. It is recommended that your kit includes the items listed on this Emergency Preparedness Formula Feeding Supplies Kit.
Safe preparation of infant formula
Safely preparing infant formula during an emergency can be difficult if you do not have clean water or electricity. Check local water quality advisories before using tap water to mix formula or to clean and disinfect feeding equipment. Follow any guidance provided by Public Health.
- Wash your hands before preparing formula and before feeding your infant. If soap and clean water are not available for handwashing, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
- Use ready-to-feed formula, if possible. Ready-to-feed formula does not need to be mixed with water.
- If you are using formula that needs to be mixed with water (powdered formula and liquid concentrate formula), boil tap or bottled water for 2 minutes (but no longer) and let it cool before mixing with formula. Bottled water is not sterile before it is boiled, so tap or bottled water that is boiled is preferred. If water cannot be boiled, bottled water is the next safest option.
Safe storage of infant formula
When storing infant formula, prepared bottles must be refrigerated at 4°C (40°F) and used within 24 hours. If you do not have power, use single serve, ready-to-feed infant formula.
Safe cleaning and use of infant feeding items (bottles, nipples, etc.)
Always clean infant feeding items, such as bottles and nipples with soap and water (boiled, bottled, or treated) before each use.
You can disinfect these items by boiling them in a pot of safe water for 2 minutes, or by disinfecting them with a bleach and water solution that consists of 1 teaspoon of bleach per 8 cups of water and soak for 2 minutes. It is especially important to disinfect infant feeding items in between use if your infant is less than 2 months of age, or if they are sick. If you cannot clean infant feeding supplies safely, children can drink milk from a disposable cup, if available. Throw out bottle nipples or pacifiers that have been in contact with contaminated water, such as floodwater.