By Melissa Portunato, IBCLC
Dealing with a natural disaster can be extremely stressful. Here in the US, Hurricanes and other natural disasters threaten various parts of our nation. With this comes the ominous thought that our precious, pumped mother’s milk may go wasted and on the other hand, that we may be faced with feeding our little one(s) during such a stressful time. You may ask yourself questions like How long will my milk be good for if the power goes out? How can I protect my freezer stash? Can I refreeze my milk? Don’t fret! We got you covered.
Losing your precious pumped milk is a BIG DEAL! Hard work goes into pumping and storing milk! Whether it’s a “date night” stash or a freezer packed to the brim, it’s YOUR milk. Your amazing body made it! It’s the superior form of infant nutrition and you want to keep it safe for your baby.
Check out these tips you need to know about how to properly handle your milk before, during, and after a natural disaster. Protect your precious liquid gold as best you can but most importantly, be vigilant and stay safe.
Tip #1: Get prepared. The Calm Before the Storm.
Before the storm hits, get prepared. Start filling up water bottles, small buckets, and pretty much anything that will hold water and pack your freezer tight. The USDA tells us, contents in the freezer will remain frozen for 48 hours if full and 24 hours if half full. So don’t be shy about it and pack it up tight! Keep your milk in the center of the freezer and try not to open the door. You can fill up our Spectra milk storage bags with water and store them in all those small spaces. Turn your freezer to the coldest setting! If you know for a fact you will be out of power for a few days, pack your freezer with dry ice! This will allow you even more chilling time. Limit opening the freezer at ALL costs to protect the temperature inside and ensure it will remain safe for that 24-48 hour timeframe. If you can invest in a deep freezer (such as a chest freezer), that would be even better as the temperature can remain more stable (even lower temperature than a kitchen freezer), keep it packed tightly like mentioned above and closed!
Tip #2: My power is out now WHAT?
If you followed tip #1 , you will have on average (depending on how packed and cold your freezer was before you lost power) 1-2 days without having to worry about relocating your breastmilk. If you didn’t prepare, disaster struck without notice, or it’s been over 2 days and power is not back, it’s OK! Evidence tells us as long as your milk still has some ice crystals in it, it remains perfectly safe to be given to your baby. Some studies even discovered it’s likely your milk is still good even if it has completely thawed, as long as it has been kept cool for 8 hours it can even be refrozen! Ha-lle-lu-jah! But, please reach out to our IBCLCs if you have any concerns or questions about your precious milk before you provide it to your little angel.
Tip #3: I’m getting the HECK out of Dodge!
Call ahead to be sure wherever you are going has a freezer. This will save you lots of unnecessary stress! Any cooler will work, but it’s best to use a cooler that accommodates the amount of breastmilk that will be transported. Keeping it nice and snug will keep it colder longer. Tape the cooler too, just in case! You wouldn’t want the top to fall off, get lost, or shift in all the madness.
It would be awful if you would lose your breast milk stash but keeping your family safe during this time is the priority. Don’t let the transporting of your milk be the reason for a delay in an emergency evacuation. Plan ahead. And if you do lose your stash, try not to beat yourself up about it. You did everything you could to save it. You’re an amazing mom! Focus on breastfeeding directly from the breast. If you are an exclusive pumper, keeping your baby close, skin to skin, can help stimulate your milk supply and help to replenish your lost milk stash. Plus, skin to skin can help calm mother and baby. Please remember you can always reach out to your pediatrician if you have any questions or concerns, especially if you have a preemie or your baby is immune compromised.
To read more tips about disaster planning and infant feeding visit The CDC. Do you have additional tips? Leave us your comments.