Humidifier - check. Electric fan - check. Lullaby CD - check. Nightlight - check. Final kisses and whispered prayers, and at last you’re ready to lay your tiny baby down to sleep.
Modern convenience makes caring for a little one easy as pie and exhaustingly complicated at the same time. Our parents muse, “How did we ever get by without that nursing pillow/bottle warmer/Sippy cup tether?” Yet somehow, the human race got this far without all of today’s fancy gadgets designed to ease parents through the baby years, and we would be wise to consider how it used to be done when evaluating raising an infant during a crisis situation.
To begin with, let’s determine what the basic needs of an infant really are (hint: they’re not too different than anyone else’s): food/water, warmth, hygiene. In this article I will discuss how to meet the needs of an infant on a very barebones level, as well as mention some tips on making it easier on yourself and your little one.
How did women feed their babies before the introduction of powdered formula and bottle warmers? The answer is obvious, and so is the solution for feeding your baby during an emergency: breastfeeding. Out of style for several decades thanks to the influx of commercially produced baby formula, breastfeeding is making a comeback. And why not? Science has proven that it is impossible to duplicate the nutritional advantages of breast milk in a lab, and countless studies have revealed the benefits for both mom and baby. Breast milk is free, portable, stays fresh without refrigeration, and does not need to be prepared; it is the perfect emergency food for your baby. Plus, breastfed babies do not require any additional fluids until they begin to eat solids, which means your stored water supply will stretch further.
However, the only practical way of ensuring a supply of milk for your infant is to have the baby’s mother begin to nurse him at birth, as a woman’s milk is provided by a “supply and demand” type of system. Therefore, when making the decision as to whether your baby will be breast or bottle fed, consider the implications in a survival situation. Sometimes physiological or situational issues make it impossible for a woman to nurse her baby, and a baby can certainly be fed formula in an emergency; breast milk is simply preferable for the reasons listed in the previous paragraph. If you have a formula fed baby or anticipate having one in the future, it is prudent to keep a supply of formula on hand to last several months.
As your baby grows, his nutritional needs increase. Though most doctors agree that many babies can thrive off of exclusively breast milk up until between six and twelve months, it is not uncommon to introduce rice cereal to an infant as young as four months. Baby cereals and canned food are luxuries, and are certainly not necessary in a survival situation. Rice cereal can be made by grinding up grains of rice and mixing with water, as can infant oatmeal. Mashed up versions of what the rest of your family is eating generally works fine for a baby as well, and it is important to keep nursing the baby or supplying it with formula until he is at least a year old (and can begin to drink whole milk, if available) and is eating “meals” with the family.
My husband and I enjoy dressing our one year old daughter in her pretty little sundresses and hairbows; the variety of baby clothes available today is astonishing. Aurora has a closet far more extensive than our own, with tiny sandals, jeans, tights, and sweaters in every color imaginable. When it comes down to it though, babies require very little clothing to be perfectly healthy and content. The extent of the clothing your baby will need depends on your climate, of course. We live high in the mountains of Northern Arizona and have four distinct seasons, with temperatures ranging from the 100s to negative twenty degrees. In the summer, all our fair-skinned baby really needs is a diaper (more on that later) and something to block the sun (a hat, lightweight pants and a shirt, or even just a thin cloth to drape over her if she’s exposed to direct sunlight). “Onesies” help keep her clean and provide protection from insects. In the winter, keeping an infant’s head, feet, and hands warm is extremely important. A warm hat is a necessity (have a couple in a variety of sizes), and a blanket for swaddling will suffice, though cozy “sleepers” and fleece “sleep sacks” will make your job easier. You will find that in an emergency, the fewer clothes you rely on for your baby, the better: less to keep track of and less laundry to do. Go ahead and keep a hairbow for your baby girl though, they’re good for morale and don’t take much space!
Making sure your baby is warm enough at night is also a concern in a survival situation. The most basic way to address this is the concept of “co-sleeping,” where the baby shares a bed with the mother and father. Allow me to point out immediately that a parent who has been drinking alcohol or who thrashes about violently in one’s sleep should never sleep next to an infant. Mothers who co-sleep with their babies are generally surprised at the quality of rest they get each night. They are comforted by knowing their baby is safe with them, not in another part of the house, and nursing the infant while lying down allows Mom and Baby the luxury of feeding without having to get up. There are valuable applications of co-sleeping in an emergency: a better rested mom is much more “present” the next day, sharing body heat with a baby provides extra warmth on a cold night, and if you have to leave somewhere at a moment’s notice at night, you have your most priceless belonging right there with you.
Right up there with the lost sleep, one of the most unappreciated parts of infant care is undoubtedly the diaper. There’s no getting around it: your baby’s need for a clean diaper will not go away during a crisis. Not including diapers in an emergency plan for your young family can cause serious problems, as diaper rash (which can develop if a diaper is not changed frequently enough) can be bad enough to cause infection. This, however, does not mean you need to go to Target and buy two thousand disposable diapers (your wallet will never recover). There is an alternative! Let us look once more to the distant past, to the days before Huggies and Pampers. You know what I’m going to say, and I know you’re cringing! Don’t worry; it’s really not that bad! This may come as news to you, but cloth diapers have come a long way since the days of noisy plastic liners and sharp pins. Type “cloth diapers” into a search engine, and you’ll be overwhelmed with the options (I was). Every survival-minded potential diaper-er should at least give cloth diapers fair consideration, because when disposables are gone, they’re gone. And the best part about it? This is one survival supply that will not sit idling on a shelf waiting for a disaster; if “just in case” never happens, you’ll still be getting use from them! Now that I’m done trying to muster up your enthusiasm for cloth diapers, allow me to give a brief rundown on the varieties out there:
The Classic: Yes, these are basically what your grandma used. A cloth diaper (some come “fitted” however, meaning you don’t need fasteners!) with a separate plastic cover. A new invention called “snappies” takes away the need for sharp pins. This is the most economical way to cloth diaper your baby. A con from the survival standpoint is that they require more space to tote around if you’re on the go, since there are several different components to them. Popular brands include Thirsties and Bummis.
All-In-Ones: Hands down, these are the most user-friendly diaper out there. In fact, they’re almost as easy as a disposable, only you have to wash them. A disadvantage is that most all-in-one diapers come in different sizes, meaning you must purchase an adequate amount in several sizes. Also, they take longer to dry since the absorbent layer cannot be removed from the rest of the diaper. This is generally the most expensive way to cloth diaper your baby. Popular brands include Kushies and FuzziBunz.
Pockets: My personal favorite, and a great compromise of the previous options- a “pocket” diaper consists of two pieces: a waterproof outer “shell” with snaps and/or Velcro, that on the inside has a fleece or suede layer that lays against the baby’s skin. In between the fleece and the shell there is a pocket. These diapers come with absorbent “inserts” which the parent positions inside of the pocket. Yes, it is a little more work than with the all-in-one diapers, but it allows you to add more inserts for greater absorbency as needed, which is a plus. After the diapers are washed and dried, we stuff them with the inserts so they’re all ready to go. They fold up into a compact little bundle and are very user-friendly. We use BumGenius; FuzziBunz is also a reliable brand.
The nitty-gritty on cloth: The obvious deterrent to cloth diapering is the whole “storing stinky diapers and washing them” business. This is understandable. With the luxury of a washing machine, I can honestly say that it’s really not a big deal. However, in a situation where there is no electricity and washing must be done by hand, yes, it is a bit trickier. But it’s still not too bad. The different brands of diapers come with slightly different washing instructions, but for the most part it’s not any more difficult than washing any load of laundry. And yes, the diaper pail can get stinky. But so do disposable diapers. If a situation arises and you are not going to be able to obtain more disposable diapers for your baby, your options are limited. Rather than cutting up your high school letterman’s jacket and favorite rain poncho to diaper your wee one, you will be so relieved (and a little smug) to have a cloth diapering system in place. Even if you rely on disposables day to day, have a stash of prefolds and covers in a closet somewhere, you know, just in case.
Other Hygiene Issues: Honestly, your baby is probably better off without baby wipes (look at the ingredients in those things!) - a cloth of some sort and a little water or a mild soap solution will do fine. Use boiled water to sterilize any contaminated baby items, like pacifiers or sippy cups, and I mean contaminated, not just “it fell on the ground.” It’s good for your baby to be exposed to some germs, so do not stress about keeping his environment pristine.
Having a helpless little life that is completely dependent on you, that you would die for in a heartbeat is a sobering thing, even in the best of times. An emergency only magnifies that. However, by taking just a few things under consideration before a crisis hits (even if you do not yet have children), you can alleviate those new fears. This article addressed what to feed an infant, how to keep it warm, and even diapering a baby under less than ideal circumstances. I’ve saved the most important point for last: love your infant, and enjoy him, no matter what is going on in the world. Play peek-a-boo and tickle his feet, snuggle him to sleep and tell him how much you love him. It costs nothing and requires no gadgets or supplies, but nothing will make him feel more secure. Though he’s small and vulnerable, the needs a baby has are actually quite simple. And the best part is, your little one doesn’t know any different. He won’t miss the fancy toys and organic food from a jar; if he’s got a full tummy, is warm and cozy, and has a diaper on his behind, he’ll reward you with his steady growth and development and drooly grins, and you’ll look back and realize it was no effort at all.