Babies & Kids

Should I stockpile bottles and formula in my baby’s emergency supplies?

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This post is NOT intended to discuss the pros/cons of breastfeeding or formula feeding under normal circumstances. If you plan to formula feed, then it’ll be important to plan out which formula, bottles, and other supplies to store in case of emergency. If you plan to breastfeed, supplement, or want to breastfeed but are concerned about the “what ifs,” then the decision is made a bit more difficult for you.

There are some important facts to understand before we go forward:

Improperly prepared formula can be deadly. Infant bellies cannot handle the same bacteria that isn’t even noticed by older children and adults. In modern day countries where sanitation and overcrowding are a problem, infants are 5 to 20 times more likely to contract diarrheal diseases. Per the World Health Organization:

“Diarrhoeal disease is the second leading cause of death in children under five years old. It is both preventable and treatable. Each year diarrhoea kills around 525 000 children under five. A significant proportion of diarrhoeal disease can be prevented through safe drinking-water and adequate sanitation and hygiene.”

Is this me saying formula is evil and you’re a terrible person for giving it? No, please understand that I’m not. What I am saying is that proper sanitation for formula feeding is something that you can’t afford to take shortcuts on. And if you’re going to give formula, there needs to be enough to last until baby can be given other foods. For example, a common occurrence in emergencies where there is a lack of formula is watering down the formula in an attempt to make it last longer. This can cause water intoxication in babies, where they don’t have the right balance of electrolytes and lose extra electrolytes because their body can’t cope, risking things like seizures. Water intoxication can be deadly at worst and at best watering down formula will result in malnutrition.

If formula is the route you’d already decided on for baby, you can skip passed this next bit and go straight to the supply list below.

If you’re breastfeeding, you need to decide whether you want to store formula/etc for just in case. If something happens that you can’t breastfeed, you’d need to either have (or find) formula, have someone wet nurse the baby for you, or find another milk alternative which would still require bottles. There’s a reason I wrote a post about how you can’t prep for everything. It’s always going to be a trade off because we won’t have so much space and so much money to devote to our preps. For me, I’ve breastfed two children at this point without issue, so at this point I don’t store any formula. I know that it’s a risk, but I put my resources towards other things. When my first was born, though, I made sure to have some on hand just because I didn’t know what to expect. So there is no one right answer. If you have at least a 72 hour supply of formula on hand, then it would buy you time to come up with another option if something happened.

One of the common worries is that the stress of a disaster could affect the mother’s milk supply so she couldn’t breastfeed. Is this possible? Yes. It affects everyone differently. Some women have no problem breastfeeding regardless of stress and the hormones connected to breastfeeding help calm both mother and baby. An option if you live in a community of families would be wet nursing, where one mother who is able to breastfeed will feed another child in addition to her own. This would be a backup option in case of breastfeeding problems if no formula is available or there aren’t proper conditions for sanitizing bottles and boiling water for formula. It’s also possible for women who have produced milk in the past to relactate, where (if there is time to do this) they can stimulate their breasts frequently enough to prompt the body to start making milk again. Even if you don’t ever intend to use these options, it’s good to know that they are an option if the situation required thinking outside of the box.

Reading Materials

The following are some resources I found an interesting read and may be worth perusing if you anticipate prepping for a baby. They specifically address emergency situations and as such bring up a lot of things parents may not know to think of if they are just used to going to the grocery store, picking up a can of formula, and calling it a day.

Infant Feeding in Emergencies: for health and nutrition workers in emergency situations

Infant and Young Child Feeding in Emergencies: Additional Information (Part 2/Including instructions for relactation)

Hesperian Health Guides: Newborn Babies and Breastfeeding (from Where There Is No Doctor)

Hesperian Health Guides: Caring for Children (from Where There Is No Doctor)

Supply List for Formula Feeding

  • Bottles and nipples (preferably a variety as some babies do better with some over others — hard to predict)
  • Sturdy bottle brush that can reach every corner of the bottles/nipples
  • Soap for washing bottles/nipples
  • Large pot to boil water for safely preparing formula and to sterilize bottles/nipples after washing
  • Bleach (optional alternative to boiling bottles to sterilize — bleach does lose potency fairly quickly)
  • Adequate stockpile of formula to last for at least 6 months of life (a consideration is whether to store a basic formula or store formula for sensitive bellies in case of food allergies to cows milk, etc)
  • Clean water in the event of a water shortage
  • Container or surface for keeping things clean during sensitization and preparation
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