Hurricane season can be a very stressful time, especially for moms who are breastfeeding or pumping during a hurricane evacuation or power outage.
Kelly Trautmann BSN, RNC-LRN, IBCLC, a NICU nurse and lactation consultant at The Woman’s Hospital of Texas, has been a nurse for 38 years and has spent the last 35 years as a NICU nurse. She is also a mom who knows about the benefits of breastfeeding and understands the challenges some mothers face.
“I enjoyed my breastfeeding journey and breastfed all four of my children,” explains Trautmann. “I love getting to work with our patients to help them on their breastfeeding journey. I like to create a safe, supportive space for them to bond with their baby and guide them through any questions they may have.”
Trautmann wants moms to feel supported and prepared for anything, including hurricanes, and believes outside environmental factors shouldn’t impact the basics of breastfeeding.
“Although the situation can be stressful, you can rest easy knowing that breastfeeding is universal no matter the time or place, you’ve got this!”
Preparing for a hurricane
Trautmann says it is important to remember these five things as we move through hurricane season:
1. Preparedness is key – start planning now
Take time to make an evacuation plan and think through items such as evacuating with frozen breastmilk, options for pumping in the event of a power outage, and options for formula if breastfeeding isn’t an option.
“It is never too early to start preparing,” said Trautmann. “The more prepared you are in the beginning, the calmer you will be in the event of an evacuation or power outage.”
If you do not breastfeed or need to supplement your milk supply, make sure you have a supply of single-serve, ready-to-feed formula that does not require mixing. After opening, store the bottle in the fridge and use it within 24 hours.
2. Breastfeeding is the safest option for mom and baby
The basics of breastfeeding during a hurricane remain unchanged. In fact, breastfeeding is considered the safest option for keeping your baby fed as it doesn’t require clean water to rinse bottles or refrigeration. Breastmilk also provides important antibodies to keep baby safe.
Hormones are released in the baby's and mother's body during breastfeeding, which can relieve stress and anxiety for mom and baby. “The act of suckling helps release hormones in baby’s body, which can help calm them if they are overwhelmed or fussy” said Trautmann.
3. Continuing to breastfeed helps maintain your supply
“Along with the hormonal and stress relief benefit that breastfeeding can provide, continuing to breastfeed whenever baby seems hungry will help maintain your supply of breastmilk,” Trautmann explained. “If you notice a decrease in your supply due to stress, don’t stop. Continuing to breastfeed or increasing the amount you are breastfeeding can help. Skin to skin is also a great way to relieve stress for you and your baby and help release the beneficial hormones in your body that help with breastfeeding.”
4. If you don’t have a pump, try expressing your milk by hand or with a battery or hand-powered pump
If you have a breast pump, make sure it is charged if a storm is approaching. If you can find a battery powered or hand pump, pack it with your supplies along with extra batteries.
An alternative to using a breast pump is hand expression, which can be a useful technique if you are in an emergency situation and without electricity.
“In the event that clean water is not available to wash your bottles, remember you can feed your baby with a cup,” says Trautmann. “You can pump or hand express milk into a cup and hold the rim of the cup to your baby’s lower lip. Tip the cup slightly so that the milk touches your baby’s lip. Don’t pour the milk into your baby’s mouth.”
Always remember to wash your hands for 20 seconds with soap and clean water before breastfeeding your baby. If you do not have access to clean water, use hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol to get rid of germs.
5. In the event of a power outage or evacuation, be prepared to keep your frozen breastmilk safe
For evacuation, make sure you have a well-insulated cooler to store your frozen breastmilk. Keep the breastmilk surrounded by other frozen items or ice. Newspaper can also be used to fill empty space in your cooler along with ice. Keep the cooler closed as much as possible.
If you are home and the power goes out, place the breastmilk in the center of your freezer and place other frozen foods or ice around the breastmilk. Fill your freezer to keep it frozen for as long as possible. Refrain from opening the freezer door more than necessary, in order to preserve the cold air.
“Even if your breastmilk begins to thaw, it may still be usable. If there are any ice crystals in the breastmilk, it is still safe to be used,” Trautmann said. “Breastmilk can be refrozen if ice crystals are present. If the breastmilk is fully thawed, it must be used within 24 hours.”
Supporting your breastfeeding journey
Breastfeeding can be both rewarding and challenging. Learning the basics puts you and your baby on the path to success. As a Texas Ten Step designated hospital, The Woman’s Hospital of Texas has policies and care practices in place for mother and baby related to breastfeeding, including breastfeeding courses and breastfeeding support. We also have a team of nurses, educators and International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs) who provide new moms with breastfeeding support after giving birth.