Get Ready to Feed Your Baby During Disasters or Supply Crisis

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To paraphrase Terry Prachett, the author of the popular Discworld series, taking care of a baby is the easiest part. There’s none of those crazy child-rearing garbage to put up with – just put milk in one end, and keep the other end as clean as possible.

Works for me!

On an ordinary day, the first part – putting milk in one end of the baby – is something we take for granted in developed countries. But, even if you are not a breastfeeding mom, the ease of obtaining formula would make our ancestors weep with envy.

Before formula became widely available, women who could not breastfeed because of medical issues were forced to find alternate means of feeding their infants. Unfortunately, many of these milk substitutes were incredibly unhealthy and were ultimately a leading cause of infant mortality. One of the few ways a woman could keep her child alive if she couldn’t feed it herself was to make some agreement with another woman who could nurse the baby for her.

All of this begs the question — what if, Heaven forbid — something happened that would send us back in time to this situation, whether permanently or temporarily?

Even if you have a stash of formula in your long-term food supply, what if your water source is contaminated?

It’s not difficult to imagine a worst-case scenario that involves a hungry baby but no way to feed them. Aside from stocking up on formula (which is a legitimate option for feeding infants), what can be done to address the needs of infants?

How will we feed babies in emergencies?

image: feeding babies drinking from bottle held by woman

What do you feed an infant in an emergency?

There are many options for feeding babies in disasters, including breastmilk, formula, donated milk, bartered milk, cross-nursing/wet-nursing, and homemade formula.

How to Prepare if You Breastfeed

If you are a breastfeeding mom, you have some special needs that need to be addressed in your emergency kit. Specifically, you need to add the following:

  1. Extra water. The rule of thumb for non-pregnant adults is one gallon per person per day. A breastfeeding woman should store half again as much or more. Read just about everything you need to know in this book about water storage.
  2. Extra food. A lactating woman needs extra calories. One medical professional explained to me that a breastfeeding mom should be eating the equivalent of an additional peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day. That’s not much, but if you already have very little extra food on hand, storing high protein and high-calorie foods, such as nut butters and fruit jam, would be good.
  3. A good hand pump. I have a Medela Harmony Breast Pump in addition to my electric one, and I like it a lot. You might need to pump for any number of reasons. If you don’t have electricity, having a manual backup is essential. This particular model is also highly portable, so it can fit easily in your 72-hour kit.
  4. Some formula. Stress and anxiety can cause your lactation to drop. Therefore, having an alternative on hand is wise. If you have your heart set on breastfeeding exclusively, the danger in using formula in this situation is that you could cause your supply to drop even further. Milk supply is tied to demand, and the use of formula decreases demand. That said, babies can’t eat your heart’s desire, so you gotta do what you gotta do. And relactation, restarting the breastmilk supply, is possible also.
  5. Infant vitamin and mineral supplements. Potentially necessary in the event you must, for some reason, resort to breast milk substitutes.
  6. Diapers. No, they’re not directly related to breastfeeding, but what goes in one end must come out the other. Therefore, make sure you have a backup plan for diapers, too.

How to Prepare if You Use Formula

Not everyone is willing or able to breastfeed, and there’s no shame in that. None. Zero. Zip.

Most women I know want to but are hampered by some health issue. The answer here is twofold:

  1. Stockpile formula. Your area may be cut off from help for a while in a disaster. You will need to use what you have on hand and/or rely on the kindness of others.
  2. Extra water. You not only need additional clean water with which to mix the formula, but you also need to sterilize the bottles and accessories. A contaminated water supply or adding inappropriate amounts of water causes most third-world infant deaths related to formula feeding. If you can, develop a system for sterilizing bottles and other feeding equipment that does not require electricity. For example, a solar oven, such as the Sun Oven, can cook food at temperatures in the 300-350 degree range, which is plenty hot for sterilizing baby bottles.
  3. Additional fuel. Same reason. While you may have ready-to-eat meals, you’ll still need to boil water to sterilize the bottles. So make sure you factor this in when you estimate fuel needs.
  4. Infant vitamin and mineral supplements. Potentially necessary in the event you must, for some reason, resort to alternative baby food.
  5. Diapers. No, they’re not directly related to breastfeeding, but what goes in one end must come out the other. Therefore, make sure you have a backup plan for diapers, too.

Other Options for Feeding Babies in Disasters

Two is one, and one is none.

Have backups for your backups

These prepping principles apply especially to our vulnerable babies, who rely on us for every need. So let’s look at other ways we can feed babies in emergencies.

Milk Donations

For every woman who has trouble with her supply, there’s one who self-identifies as a jersey cow.

An overabundance of milk is a problem that I’m sure many people would like to have. I don’t have to describe what that’s like – if you are one of these people, you already know.

Milk donations typically fall into two camps: milk banks and private donations.

Milk Banks

It doesn’t matter a ton in the long run in healthy babies whether they are fed formula or breastmilk. For sickly babies, however, the difference is much more significant.

Hospitals often refer to human colostrum and breastmilk as “white gold” because they see the difference that antibodies and other goodies make.

Milk banks provide breastmilk for hospitalized preemies and ill newborns and also after discharge. However, the one in my area states that infants one year or younger are eligible with a valid prescription.

Donations come from women who have more milk than their baby needs. The milk bank puts the product through tests following health and quantity requirements and pasteurizes it to ensure it’s safe to distribute.

To locate a local milk bank, visit the Human Milk Banking Association of North America. Find information about the proper care and storage of breastmilk here.

Private Donations

Of course, donating privately is as easy as handing off a bottle of expressed milk to a friend. It’s not uncommon in my town for a woman with a baby in the NICU to ask friends and family for donated breastmilk.

Your comfort level with this will vary as the health and lifestyle of the donor affects the content of the milk. Viruses, both common and serious, as well as trace amounts of drugs, prescription and recreational, are transmitted in milk. Unlike a milk bank, the donation isn’t tested and pasteurized.


Another option, should the situation arise, is to acquire breastmilk through bartering. But, again, the same concerns about private donation regarding milk quality apply here. Perhaps even more so, as in this case, you may not know the health and lifestyle of the donor.

However, in a SHTF situation, both individuals in the bartering arrangement benefit provided you have a barterable skill or commodity.

Cross-nursing and Wet-nursing

Cross-nursing, also known as cross-feeding (occasional nursing another woman’s child while also nursing her own) and wet-nursing (complete nursing of another woman’s child, often for pay) are generally frowned upon in most modern circles. However, it is possible.

I have cross nursed two babies in my day – the first was my niece, and it didn’t feel weird at all (it was an emergency).

The second instance, though, was the daughter of an acquaintance, and that was so weird I will probably never do it again.

For more information, you can go to La Leche League International.

Homemade Formula

Commercial grade baby formula has an interesting history, but we’ll only look at a piece of it in the next section.

What did people feed babies before formula?

In the 1930s, after studies demonstrated the health of infants as comparable to breastfed babies, doctors began endorsing an evaporated milk formula. They finally arrived at a simplified formula consisting of 13 oz of evaporated milk, 19 oz of water, and two tablespoons of either light corn syrup or table sugar mixed thoroughly.

From the 1940s through the 1960s, this formula, used in conjunction with infant vitamins, became the gold standard used by most everyone who didn’t breastfeed. According to History of American Pediatrics by T.E. Cone, in 1960, estimates put the number of bottle-fed babies using it at 80%.

During this same period, companies developed, tested, marketed, and improved commercial formulas. Three factors contributed to their eventual widespread adoption:

  1. Women entering the workforce during World War 2 benefited from the fast prep but didn’t have to sacrifice their baby’s health
  2. The counterculture of the 1960s encouraged the sexual revolution and pushed for women’s rights
  3. Companies promoted acceptance of their products by peddling free or, at least, inexpensive formula to hospitals in ready-to-use bottles

The last one was the clincher, though. Once hospitals embraced it, it had a cascading effect on the women who passed through the hospital birthing rooms. After that, the evaporated milk formula fell out of favor and was soon mostly a relic of the past.

Fast forward to the present. Nowadays, the internet is awash with warnings about homemade baby formula.

Cautions About Homemade Baby Formula

There are some good reasons for these warnings against DIY formulas:

  • Possibly deficient in nutrients needed for proper development. Babys have very specific nutritional requirements, requirements that change as they grow. Breastmilk is unique in that it changes to meet those needs. Due to the influence of physicians, commercial baby formula approximates breastmilk in its various forms.
  • On the flip side, homemade formulas could include unsafe levels of nutrients.
  • Contamination and infection is possible, both in ingredients and items used to fix and store the finished product.

Are these valid concerns?


But they’re not deal breakers. Many people will tell you they raised their babies on a homemade formula or they themselves were raised on it. If done properly, it’s obviously a viable solution.

And remember, we’re talking about feeding babies in disasters or supply chain issues. So you need to do your homework, now, not later, and make sure the formula will meet your baby’s nutritional requirements, including proper quantities of vitamins and minerals.

In addition, ensure ingredients aren’t contaminated and that you sterilize items used to prepare the mix. Recalls of infant formula that resulted in illness and death throw into sharp relief both the irony and importance of preventing contamination.

Some Research About the Evaporated Milk Formula

In an article titled, Evaporated Milk In Infant Feeding, published in 1957 in The British Medical Journal, pediatricians state, “In evaporated tinned milk we have a perfectly safe infant food.” The article describes its use as part of an infant formula (being diluted with water and mixed with sugar) used at a group of hospitals for the previous four years.

1957 is ancient, though, right?

Two more recent studies, one published in 1997 and the other in 1999, both conclude that infants fed the evaporated milk formula received inadequate amounts of vitamins and minerals. This is unsurprising since babies were also given supplements in the initial use of the formula.

If one uses the evaporated milk formula, infant vitamins are critical.

A Recipe for Homemade Baby Formula from The Weston A. Price Foundation

The Weston A. Price Foundation has several homemade baby formulas, created by Mary Enig, Ph.D., including recipes for:

  • Raw milk baby formula
  • Goat milk formula
  • Liver-based formula

Click here to go to those recipes.

Prepare NOW to Feed Babies in Emergencies

The bottom line is that you are in charge of “putting milk in one end” of your baby, now and in times of trouble. Feeding babies in disasters or supply chain disruptions requires forethought and planning.

So please do your homework, decide on your backup feeding plan, and then implement it. Hopefully, you’ll never have to use it, but it will be one huge relief and blessing if you do.

This is for information purposes only and is not intended to diagnose, treat, or prescribe for any disease.  Consult your personal medical professional.

This article was originally published on June 21, 2016, and has been updated.

9 thoughts on “Get Ready to Feed Your Baby During Disasters or Supply Crisis”

    1. I read it is the closest thing to mom’s milk on a website several years back. Way better than cows milk which can cause allergies.

      1. Prepared Grammy

        My son’s girlfriend lost her mom when she was a baby. They were poor, and couldn’t afford formula. Her dad fed the baby goats’ milk. I have a friend who had heart surgery. His cardiologist told him to cut out all dairy, except goats’ milk and goat cheese. They buy milk from me, and are now making their own cheese. They said it’s great on home-made pizza.
        In times of trouble, many people who turn their nose up to goats’ milk may wish they had a goat or two.

    2. That’s true! I forgot about that. My sister-in-law was fed quite a bit of goat’s milk when she was young because she was allergic to all other options.

  1. lactivist prepper

    I was surprised on the content of the article given the picture but kudos on the good breastfeeding info. Even a short term crisis can be made worse by not being able to heat up milk/sterilise bottles. Booby milk all the way!

    1. Prepared Grammy

      I breastfed my babies too. However, I was in the minority at that time. I feel that moms should get support in whatever decision they make in the feeding of their children. It’s a shame that there are people who are quick to criticize, but slow to praise. Why do some people have to be that way? I choose to be a help, not a hinderance.

  2. I was fed goat’s milk as a child, as well. I did not respond to any other options.
    I agree that it is wise to stock up on extra nutrition for babies and lactating mamas. I had my babies overseas, and both nursed and bottle fed them. I used to get panic attacks, worrying about what I would do in this unfamiliar country if I could not feed my baby! Prepping truly helps ease anxiety in the short run and comes in very handy for real in the long run.

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