emergency preparation with a baby

With Hurricane Irene about to hit Virginia Beach, where we were last week, and the entire east coast talking about the earthquake, it seems like everyone I know is talking about emergency preparation. My husband and I have always been interested in being ready for an emergency, mostly because of our interest in peak oil and our feeling that our entire economic and transportation system, particularly our food supply system, is bound to collapse at some point, probably with little notice. We’re doomers that way. But it’s one thing to believe something will probably happen and an entirely different thing to be ready for it. Planning for an apocalypse-type scenario, in which support systems and resources would be gone indefinitely (or maybe forever), is overwhelming. But everyone should at least be prepared for a few days of survival, because that kind of emergency really could happen at a moment’s notice–and does all the time.

It’s one thing to prepare for yourself and your spouse or partner to get out of town for a few days. But throwing kids into the mix adds a whole new level of difficulty. Which is probably why I am nowhere near as prepared for this kind of thing as I would like to be. Still, every bit is a start. All this hurricane talk has re-inspired me to prepare my “bug-out bag”: a transportable bag with the minimum stuff you need for a few days of survival. In case you need to get out of town in a hurry. Because you never know when a hurricane (or peak oil, or hey, you know, the zombie apocalypse) might sneak up on you.

Three Day Emergency Preparation Basics for Families:
* Water: Three gallons per adult, two gallons per child. Keep this water stored and replace it with fresh water every six months.
* Food: three meals a day per person. Canned food and food that stores well but doesn’t have to be cooked, like rolled oats, is good for this. For a baby or toddler, I like to have organic freeze dried food, because it stores well and it’s healthy and single-ingredient. Babies and toddlers need more fat than adults, so you should include foods like dehydrated eggs and milk. One of my favorite emergency preparation bloggers, Sharon Astyk, also recommends that you have three days of powdered formula and several clean bottles stored for a baby under six months, as a back-up in case something happens to mom.  I hesitate to include this (and I’m not sure I’ll ever actually buy some for my storage), not least because of the negative affect that having formula available can have on breastfeeding, especially for first-time moms. Also, breastfeeding is much, much better in an emergency, especially since water could be contaminated (even if you have a way to purify it). A better back-up option is a nearby friend who’s also a lactating mom. But, well, if I died and my husband and baby were separated from all our friends, I would not want our baby to starve. I also don’t think I would want him giving our under-six-month-old infant cow’s milk, especially since dairy allergies run in our family. So having formula stored is an option I’m considering–especially since I’m a second-time mom now and very much doubt I’d be tempted to use it if I have breastfeeding challenges the second time around.

Another point about food that Sharon Astyk makes which I definitely do agree with is that you shouldn’t just leave your food in storage–you should eat regularly from your food storage supply and replenish it as you eat it. This is especially important when you have kids so that picky eaters will be used to the food and won’t resist eating it when it’s all that’s available in an emergency.
* Diapers. I like to joke that I don’t consider diapers a necessity for babies, and there’s no doubt that practicing elimination communication would come in really handy in an emergency. However, in a situation where hygiene is a concern, I would want diapers. You don’t want to have a miss in a situation where your water for washing is limited. The Eco Chic has a wonderful post today about preparing an emergency kit with cloth diapers. The only thing I would add to her advice on handwashing diapers is a small container of tea tree essential oil so you can add a few drops to the cold water as a disinfectant. I would include small containers of both baking soda and vinegar as well–vinegar in particular is good for disinfecting everything, not just laundry.
* Materials for personal hygiene. This includes a bucket and a couple of clean sponges (for sponge bathing), toothbrushes and toothpaste, soap, and toilet paper (or better yet, family wipes). For soap, I like to use castile soap because you can use it for everything, including washing cloth diapers (and brushing your teeth). I will put a couple of soap nuts in my bag as well, because they’re my preferred type of laundry-and-everything soap, but they require hot water so they’re not as practical.
* Flashlight with extra batteries. Goes without saying.
* Fire starter and cooking pots. We have both matches (which you should put in a plastic bag so they don’t get wet) and a magnesium fire starter, because it lasts a lot longer.
* Medicines and vitamins. If you’re breastfeeding, you should store prenatal vitamins, and you should also have multivitamins for everyone, including the kids. Plus of course any medications and essential supplements for anyone in your family.
* Clothes and blankets. For babies and kids, switch out the clothes every six months so you have some that fit. If you want to just leave them there, you can include one summer outfit and one winter one–or just winter outfits, since clothes are more important in winter.
* First aid kit. For me, this would include some homeopathic remedies (teething tablets, cold and allergy remedies, and arnica) in addition to the basic bandages and hydrogen peroxide.
* Baby carrier. A lot more useful than a stroller if you need to move quickly over uncertain terrain. And it’s helpful to have your hands free when you need to carry supplies. If you have a lot of baby carriers (like I do), then you can have a carrier that stays in your emergency kit so you don’t have to grab another as you’re leaving quickly. I’m hoping to get another wrap for my next baby so my old wrap can live in the kit.
* Battery powered radio with lots of extra batteries. For me, this would serve a dual purpose, since my daughter can’t sleep without music. Granted, she might not sleep in an emergency anyway. But I think it’s worth it to attempt to keep life as normal as possible for kids in an emergency. Which brings me to my next point:
* Toys and comfort items. Of course I wouldn’t store my kids’ favorite toys in the bug-out bag, but if we had ten minutes to prepare before leaving in an emergency, I would grab her favorite toys. And probably a couple of her favorite books, too. One of the benefits of having a bag ready to go is that you can think about extras like that at the last minute instead of packing essentials.
* Reliable transportation. This is a big one for us, since we are always anticipating sudden gas shortages. We have a car that runs on straight vegetable oil, so if there were a gas shortage, we would drive that.
* A place to meet if you have to leave your house quickly. This is more for a fire, although it might be necessary for a flood too. Ideally you should have two places, one just outside your house and one outside of your neighborhood. But with little kids and babies, it’s hard to plan for a distant meeting place.

Do I have all these things packed? Heck no. And now that I’m having a second baby, my list of things I need for an emergency is changing. We so have some things stored (like water), but they’re not gathered and ready to go in an emergency. It’s on my list of things to do before this baby comes, though. Especially after today. Thanks, Hurricane Irene.

Thanks also to Jessica James Hale, who sent me the Peggy O’Mara article and encouraged me to rethink and rewrite the section on storing formula. 

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