Friday, October 26, 2012

Frankenstorm is coming, what about my freezer stash??

Do you have a story to tell about saving your freezer stash in the wake of Sandy? Please share in comments below. I'll be tweeting them out and posting them on the Human Milk News Facebook page.

What about the freezer stashes? That was my first thought this morning when I heard plans were being made on the East Coast to deal with power outages and possible evacuations as the so-called Frankenstorm approaches. Moms will be stressed and worried and will need help to protect their freezers full of expressed breastmilk. And the story of my friend Christine popped into my head.
Illustration via CBC.ca's Frankenstorm Coverage,Oct 26, 2012


See my blog post #FirstWorldProblems: Are we doing enough to protect infants in emergencies for a review of advice published by infant feeding in emergencies experts Karleen Gribble and Nina Berry, who urge emergency preparedness teams in countries like the US, Canada, and their native Australia to provide more specific advice to those caring for and feeding infants during emergencies - particularly those whose infants need infant formula, which is unsafe if prepared without clean equipment using hot, clean water.
As Tropical Storm Irene approached in August 2011, Christine realized she was in a mandatory evacuation zone. She began to make plans to travel with her husband and children inland. Christine discovered standard evacuation advice is short on information for the parents and caregivers of young infants. Traveling across state with a car full of kids and possessions is challenging enough - moms don't need to feel additional anguish over leaving behind or accidentally thawing their freezer stash of breastmilk. Here's her story:

In late August, 2011, Hurricane Irene was making her way up the eastern seaboard.  Being in metro NYC, where hurricanes don't generally strike, I didn't think much of the warnings, but Irene's path was aimed right for Manhattan.  Parts of the city and many suburbs were evacuated with the threat of severe flooding. My concern was the potential for a power outage.  With two small children, a bulldog who can't be without air conditioning for long, and a big stash of frozen breast milk that I had spent countless hours pumping, I didn't want to risk staying through the storm. 
What's a mother to do? Well she packs up her frozen milk and takes it along! Being a bit of a neat freak I have always frozen my milk flat, it makes storing many bags in a small space much easier. When I counted the 60+ bags out, I had around 300 ounces. I know that given good insulation, the best way to travel with frozen perishables is to pack the cooler tightly. I had frozen gallon-sized ziplock bags of water flat (see note below) . I packed my cooler with the flat, frozen bags of milk and makeshift ice packs, and stuffed newspaper in every crevice. My milk was to stay frozen for the near-three-hour drive to our safe haven.

We were fortunate to have immediate access to a freezer upon arrival at my dad's house during that storm. When I peeked in at my milk it was still safely frozen.
 
Now, just over one year later, we are being faced with Frankenstorm, and once again, there is the potential to be without the luxury of freezer capabilities. And with a bountiful frozen stash explicitly for donating to a very special baby girl, I don't dare take my chances with a power outage.
My preparations include having plenty of newspaper, my go-to soft insulated cooler, and a sign to keep the freezer closed. The power company is pretty good about telling how long an outage will last. And if  it’s more than a day we will move it somewhere there is a working freezer. 
 
A mom's freezer stash is critically important - it might be needed for when mom goes back to work, or perhaps it's being collected for a life-saving donation. And in an emergency, moms need clear instruction on how to keep their stash frozen if the power goes out to their freezer, or if they have transport their frozen breast milk. And those instructions need to be easy to print and refer to as they're making their evacuation or hunker-down plans.

Christine turned to her social networks and within a few minutes had most of the info she needed to make sure her frozen breastmilk was protected and safe* (See note below on why you should use gel packs instead of frozen water). The info Christine needed wasn't on any official government website. She was able to turn to trusted sources on the Internet because she still had electricity and a smart phone. Christine was able to keep her stash frozen and protected and later donated her milk to a baby in need. 


Jessica Martin-Weber, owner of the Facebook support page The Leaky B@@B, recounts her experience during Hurricane Ike in 2008:
You know what stands out most about that experience? Getting stressed about my frozen milk, washing diapers in the bath tub, drinking the ice cold Mexican Coke in the glass bottles someone brought us, the heat, and the FEMA centers running out of food, the giant daily block parties as we all pooled our resources for meals. I had a freezer full of milk when we were hit by Ike and then we were without power for 2 weeks. When I realized I couldn't save my milk I made a trip to an area with power and reached out to get my milk to homes STAT. My milk babies had evacuated so we needed new homes. I used the milk that defrosted in cooking. Still, it remained frozen for a good week. 
Click here for more info from Katy Linda.
Jessica's milk didn't go to waste, and your milk doesn't have to either.  IBCLC Katy Linda has pulled together this information on over on Stylin' Momma to help you protect your freezer stash.

And if you think you are going to need to transport frozen milk, here are some tips to help you plan.

Travelling with your breastmilk?


If you have to travel with your breastmilk – first consider your destination and make sure there is freezer space for your stash! Use or purchase a well-insulated cooler that will hold all your milk, but not so big that it allows lots of air space. Think about where it will fit in your vehicle – soft-sided may work better. If you have gel packs* or can pick some up and freeze them, they can help keep your milk frozen longer but they are not necessary.

1) Line the bottom of your cooler with newspaper.

2) Place the frozen breastmilk on top of the newspaper

3) Use crumpled newspaper to take up any extra air space – that is the key to keeping your milk frozen.

4) Place a layer of newspaper on top of the milk, and place frozen gel packs* on the top of the newspaper (remember, cold air travels down, so they’re better on top than on the bottom.)

5) Keep the cooler closed until you have reached your destination freezer! Consider sealing it duct tape to improve the seal.

You may have heard of using dry ice to ship breastmilk – it is not necessary and probably is hard to find during an emergency – it will keep milk frozen for several days. If you do have easy access to dry ice, be sure to keep the dry ice separate from the milk to keep it from ripping open the bags.

Here’s a list of items to add to your emergency preparedness shopping/checklist

__ cooler (not much larger than the amount of milk you need to transport)

__ gel packs

__ today’s newspaper

__ duct tape

Stay safe!

*Note, Christine used frozen water in her cooler, but while researching for this blog post we learned breastmilk freezes at a lower temperature due to its salt content, and gel packs are a better option than frozen water. Kittie Franz writes about this in a 2007 Mothering Magazine article on travelling with breastmilk. 

This blog post was originally posted without Christine's story and the information about gel packs vs frozen water. It was updated on Sunday, Oct 28, 2012.

Update, Oct 31, 2012: Dr. Karleen Gribble, co-author of "Emergency preparedness for those who care for infants in developed country contexts" writes:


"I've been thinking of the mothers and babies as well as those seeking to help mothers and babies in the areas affected by Sandy. I am sure that there are many doing amazing things.
I'd urge those there, if they can, to keep a record of what they see and hear. The more info we can collect from emergencies about infant and young child feeding issues, the better we can advocate for better planning and response in future emergencies in developed country contexts. And please, if you see or hear of anything! Tell me about it!"
I'd urge those there, if they can, to keep a record of what they see and hear. The more info we can collect from emergencies about infant and young child feeding issues, the better we can advocate for better planning and response in future emergencies in developed country contexts. And please, if you see or hear of anything! Tell me about it!"

Dr. Gribble can be reached here.

Update: Oct 31, 2012: Other blog posts on saving freezer stashes:

- KellyMom: My power went out and I have breast milk in the freezer - Help! - Oct 28, 2012

- CT Breastfeeding Coalition: URGENT: Hurricane Sandy and Emergency Preparation/ Information for: Mothers with Stored Human Milk and Pump Dependent Lactating Moms
- Oct. 28, 2012

- PumpEase: Pumpin' Mama in a Power Outage: Handling Frozen Milk (quick print tip card)  - Oct. 29, 2012 

San Diego Breastfeeding Centre What About my Freezer Stash of Breastmilk during a Power Outage? - Oct 29, 2012

Urgent Update October 31 - HMBANA issues call for milk donations, says disruption from Hurricane Sandy and looming holiday season will result in shortages - preemies in NICUs won't have donor human milk. - see here for news release: (will open as a PDF)


Update, November 1, 2012 An article appeared today in Time Magazine by Bonnie Rochman featuring the moms on the Human Milk 4 Human Babies page who reached out looking for freezers to save their milk stashes, or for recipients for milk that would otherwise go to waste. 


Do you have a story to tell about saving your freezer stash in the wake of Sandy? Please share in comments below. I'll be tweeting them out and posting them on the Human Milk News Facebook page.




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