Having lived through Hurricane Irma, I can appreciate what a scary time a major hurricane can be. One moment you’re in the dead of summer, with intermittent news of a threat to this or that area. The next moment that area is the one where you live, and you’re frantically preparing and asking yourself lots of questions: Stay or go? What to take? Am I ready? What else can I do? Is it too late to do anything?
As hectic and frightening as it is for adults in the line of fire, it’s even more so for children and those who care for them. And if you have a young infant—or are about to have one—there are even more issues that speak to being as prepared as possible and to heeding the advice of the experts. In order to explore this a little bit, let’s start by looking at the special needs of little ones during these times.
Baby Differences That Matter
You already know that babies are not just little adults, and that they have special needs that grownups don’t have. And as important as it is to keep everyone safe and healthy during a disaster such as a hurricane, it’s crucial to consider the requirements of the youngest residents affected by a natural disaster. Some of the special issues faced by infants:
- They have greater fluid requirements and can become dehydrated more easily—especially concerning since hurricanes often occur in hot weather and water supplies may be limited.
- They have increased needs for nutrients and energy, and limited ways of obtaining them even under the best of circumstances, let alone when feeding options are limited.
- They are more easily harmed by toxic chemicals.
- They are more prone to infection, which can be a concern when conditions aren’t as germ-free as we would like.
The bottom line is that conditions that adults and older children can tolerate for a little while may be riskier for babies.
You’ve Likely Heard This Before, But…
Heed the warnings! Follow the advice of the hurricane experts! Sometimes the lure of summer enjoyment—beach weather, kids out of school, maybe a vacation somewhere—tends to lull us into inactivity. But a little preparation goes a long way. While it’s standard to stock up on supplies such as water and batteries, don’t forget the little one’s emergency kit. This is not an all-inclusive list, but here are some things to think about:
- Infant formula, for formula-fed babies (ready-to-feed, in single-serve bottles)
- A simple, age-appropriate medicine chest: fever reducer (when OK’d by your baby’s provider), diaper rash cream, a bulb for stuffy noses, a thermometer
- Plenty of warm clothing and baby blankets. Think layers, depending on where you live.
- Baby food in single-serving jars or pouches, if age-appropriate
- Immunization records, plus copies of any records with your baby’s medical history if there have been any problems
Finally, for mothers who have chosen to breastfeed, do remember that you have a steady source of nutrition for your baby. If you live in a hurricane-prone area, there’s something to be said for deferring weaning until the end of hurricane season!
And as far as evacuation goes, when called for: you know the drill. We’ve all heard it, but so many stay behind. People get concerned about their homes and belongings. They feel secure in their (or their friends’) “Category 5 home.” And not a few enjoy the bravado of riding out a major storm.
The issue here is, while not desirable, adults can make the choice to ride out a dangerous hurricane. However, children don’t have that choice and depend on adults to keep them safe. And although there were few deaths in the Florida Keys during Irma, supplies were lacking for several days. People can always rebuild homes, but infants don’t repair quite as easily. Fortunately, although I knew many adults that stayed and rode out the storm, almost everyone I knew with children evacuated.
OK, so you’ve made it through an evacuation and kept your baby safe. You’re anxious to return to your home and your life. But what is your baby returning to?
During Irma, water, electricity, health care, and the ability to buy provisions of any kind, including food and first aid, were lacking for several days. You want to have easy access to anything your baby might need. And keep in mind that for a variety of reasons, you may not be coming back to a place that’s dry, comfortable, or safe for your baby.
Officials will give the green light for safe return, but realize that not everything may be in place for an ideal environment for your baby. Use any resources you have—reports from municipal websites as well as information from those who did stay behind—to plan for the best return possible. Some things to look for when planning a safe return are described here.
A Few Words on Pregnancy and Hurricanes
Ideally, hospitals that take care of pregnant women and infants learn from every disaster, and make every effort to plan for safe care and, when necessary, transport of women close to delivering a baby. However, it almost goes without saying that preparation in this case goes way beyond putting up shutters and securing belongings.
First off, remember to keep your obstetrician in the loop! She’ll know what the local hospital plans in terms of services, allowing you to make the best decisions for you and your baby-to-be. Make sure you have copies of your medical record. And don’t forget to have an adequate supply of your medications in addition to water and, as much as possible, well-traveling, nutritious food. And after the storm is over, do check in as soon as you are able.
We who live in hurricane-prone areas can only hope for a better season than the previous one. But storms do happen—we’ve already had one hit the U.S. at this writing—and thinking about the threat now will increase the chances of our littlest ones staying safe and healthy.