In motherhood, it always feels like disaster is looming. Whether someone hits the doorbell right when you get the baby to sleep or a cold wipes out your entire family, disasters of all sizes strike — it’s a matter of fact. And when they do, being prepared is key.
As we enter the season of stormy weather and potential hurricanes, breastfeeding moms may be considering what to do with their precious breast milk storage and, if necessary, how to maintain pumping during a power outage.
We consulted with a few experts in the field to create a comprehensive “how to” for parents or caregivers facing the threat of thawing breast milk. Our first tip: Print this article now and keep it somewhere easy to find. In the event of a power outage, access to the web will be limited at best.
How to keep breast milk frozen
No matter your personal pumping goals, if you’re a breastfeeding mom, you likely have breast milk in your freezer. You may be an exclusive pumper or perhaps you pump to cover the gaps when you’re not with your baby. Regardless of why you pump, the time and energy you’ve put into building your breast milk stash is not to be taken lightly.
In the event of a power outage, check to see if your neighbors or even a local restaurant or grocery store might have a generator and would be willing to take your milk. If not, do not fret. Kate Torgersen, founder of Milk Stork, recognizes the challenge: “Maintaining the temperature of your frozen stash of breast milk during a severe weather event can add more stress to an already stressful situation, but there is time on the clock. If there is no access to back up power such as a generator, keep the freezer closed to maintain the interior temperature.”
Barbara Zimmermann, RN, BSN, IBCLC, CEIM, at The Pump Station and Nurtury, adds, “Pack that freezer — full. Place your breast milk in the center of the freezer (where the temperature is more stable) and place other frozen foods and/or containers of frozen water around the breast milk. A full freezer should keep milk frozen for 24-48 hours.”
Keeping the milk frozen for a long as possible is key. According to Torgersen, “even if some of the milk is defrosted — meaning slushy or has ice crystals — it is still considered frozen and can be refrozen.” Be sure to mark it with the date so you’ll have the information you’ll need to use it.
If the milk has defrosted, Zimmermann advises that “defrosted milk must be used within 24 hours.” She urges, “give what you can to your baby or donate it to a local milk bank.” Other ideas include thinking a bit outside of the box such as making a special milk bath, which is quite soothing and good for baby’s skin, she says.
How to use your already pumped and frozen milk
Remember, you are not to open the freezer. As such, Michelle Hudasko, IBCLC, of Breastfeeding Resource Center, suggests you plan ahead. If necessary, she says, “Take just enough pumped milk out to last a few days. This will allow you or a caregiver to bottle feed.” This should be kept in a well-iced cooler.
How to pump sans power
If power is out and mom needs to pump, try hand expression, a manual hand pump or use of a battery adapter for your electric pump. Be sure to stock up on extra batteries, milk bags, a Sharpie marker, plenty of ice to fill a heavy-duty cooler and cleaning wipes. Additionally, have as many clean bottles and nipples on hand as possible.
What to do with newly pumped milk
Newly pumped milk, as well as any defrosting milk from the cooler, should be used first. “Pumped milk will not freeze in the cooler,” Hudasko warns. “Think in terms of what you’ve taken out and what you are pumping as immediate-use breast milk.” She suggests putting the newer milk on top and keeping the frozen milk at the bottom of the cooler for the sake of preservation. She also urges that all new milk should be dated for the sake of organization.
In case of emergency
According to Zimmermann, “If evacuation occurs, it is most important to keep mom and baby together. Milk is readily available, perfect temperature and safe. Also key: Mother should stay well hydrated. In a stressful situation the normalcy of breastfeeding can be comforting to both mom and child.”
Torgersen stresses, “Make sure that a breastfeeding baby has access to nutrition in the event of an emergency — especially if there is a possibility that he/she could be separated from his/her mom. Emergency kits should always include formula and bottled water. Make sure that instructions for preparing the formula are included in the kit.”
The chaos of natural disasters and power outages can lead families and caregivers to feeling out of control and panicked. An informed plan will make the difference in both outcome and peace of mind.
Julia Beck is the founder of the It’s Working Project and Forty Weeks and is based in Washington, DC where she is the matriarch of a blended family that includes a loving husband, a loyal golden retriever and four children — all of whom are her favorite. She tweets @thejuliabeck.