Why you need an emergency baby bag
(This post contains affiliate links to Amazon – but you can get almost all of this stuff at your local store, too.)
Ok, so, first off – everyone is freaking out right now. It’s going to be okay. Really.
I know that maybe you and everyone around you feels panicked – but acting like Beaker from the muppets isn’t going to help. So, first off – take a deep breath.
If you have a baby, you might feel even more stressed out than everyone else. There is something about having a baby that makes you feel EXTRA vulnerable in times of upheaval. It’s normal. Arguably, it’s even a healthy feeling – as long as you can keep it in check. Part of the need to protect our children is what makes us human.
Because it seems like everyone in the world decided to learn about prepping in the last 5 minutes (seriously, toilet paper?!?!? What are you people even doing?) I have been inundated with texts from friends who are either pregnant or have tiny babies and want to know what they can do. They know that I’m their weird prepper friend who doesn’t subscribe to the dark and twisty anti-social parts of it, but who likes to be ready in case of an emergency.
I made a “bug out/in bag” – but for babies
I formulated my baby emergency bag a few months after my first son was born – which was at about the same time major swaths of Texas were facing huge floods. It was hard to read the news every day, exhausted and full of post-partum hormones, without spiraling into a blind empathetic panic.
What did people need? Diapers and formula. I tried to Amazon Prime some to a local church that was distributing them, but it was a challenge getting anything into the area.
Looking down at my own infant son, I felt so scared for moms in Texas and wondered what I would do if I were them. What if my own home flooded? How would I handle a fire? Being stuck in the house with no electricity or running water? What if I needed to evacuate with a tiny baby in my arms?
The prospect of being helpless seemed overwhelming and scary. I hate feeling that way. So, I created my own baby emergency bag, then just stashed it in the bottom of a closet.
There are a million websites that will tell you what you should have in a “bug-out bag” in case you need to evacuate your location quickly and care for yourself. However, those of us who have taken that first trip out of the house with a newborn while loaded down like a pack mule heading to the top of Machu Picchu know that babies have different needs. Although we all need similar things to survive – babies are just special.
To clarify: this is NOT the same as my diaper bag. I bought a cute Kate Spade white fabric bag when pregnant for my first son (that was dumb – dark vinyl only from now on) that has 14 different kinds of lip gloss stashed in various pockets along with various Cheerios crumbs. This is definitely not the same thing. My emergency bag was packed for maximum usefulness for minimum weight.
You don’t have to go overboard, but the peace of mind in knowing that you have something to grab and go if necessary is especially critical for those of us who are already sleep-deprived and covered with a nigh constant stream of unidentifiable secretions.
Also, knowing you have a bag in the closet with some basic baby necessities in case you lose power or need to shelter-in-place for a few days can help to relieve your anxiety.
Being prepared doesn’t mean being negative
There’s a weird misconception about “preppers” that assumes we’re always looking for bad things to happen. I find that in a lot of cases, it’s quite the opposite. The better care we take of ourselves, the better care we can take of those around us.
Obviously, I don’t wish to be in a disaster, with a baby or otherwise. But if I am I hope to care for both myself and him well enough so as to help those around me.
Often, the best thing you can do to help others in a crisis is to merely be able to care for yourself and your immediate family. This opens up emergency services and supplies for those in a critical situation. If you don’t need help, services can be provided to the next person down the line.
Here’s the other thing – if you’re in a crisis with a baby and you need help, who do you look for? The mom who looks the least panicked. She knows what’s going on, she’s got it under control, maybe she even has some spare baby supplies to share. I aspire to be THAT mom in a crisis.
Here’s what’s in my bag – and why
Babies are different. They are the most vulnerable, and yet dichotomously also the most resilient, amongst us. If you need to evacuate (or need to stay in) with a baby, there are some things to consider having that you don’t need to worry about with people who can eat solid food and do very basic personal care. Here’s what I keep in a small backpack solely for caring for my baby in case of an emergency. If the need arises, I’ll fill the water bladder and off we’ll go.
I bought my bag at Costco a number of years ago for “light hiking.” This was back when I was still deluding myself into believing I was a person who does light hiking. I don’t. However, that’s what ultimately made it the perfect bag to fill with items I would need in an emergency and then toss in a closet. Because I don’t actually need a bag for hiking. I keep my baby carrier close to my emergency bag because you will need that, too.
What makes a perfect bag for this application is the following:
- It’s easy to carry on my back if I’m wearing the baby on the front, or vice versa. I suggest if you’re looking to pick your own, assume you will also have a baby carrier loaded with 4 – 40 pounds of human. Ensure your supply bag is light and easy to maneuver.
- It has a water bladder. You don’t necessarily know where/how much water you’ll have, so having something to fill and take with you is critical if you need to leave. If you shelter in place, fill your bathtub in case there’s some interruption in utilities.
Enfamil single serving formula powder packets
These are an amazing invention. I used to use tiny sandwich bags and scoop formula into them when I started keeping a baby emergency bag because these didn’t exist yet (by the way, using sandwich baggies is still a fine strategy if these packets sell out). Now you can buy these nice little pre-measured tubes to be mixed with 4 ounces of water. Simply tear open the packet and pour it into a bottle.
Breastfeeding? Grab some of these anyway. It’s better to have formula to give away to others who need it if you don’t than be sitting in a crisis with a hungry baby (which can compound stress and can make supply harder) wishing you had something with which to supplement. Stress and a hungry baby can push you into a downward spiral that makes pulling up tough. There’s no harm in having some backup.
Do you have a formula baby already? I would consider keeping an extra can in the cabinet. If you have to jet, just pour that whole sucker into a Ziplock bag (easier to pack) scoop and all.
2 – 5 oz. plain, boring, baby bottles with rings and nipples
This isn’t the place to get all fancy with the bottles with the bells and the whistles and the 47 pieces to clean. These bottles are just utility players to ensure you can get sustenance into your baby. The less there is to mess with, the better. I suggest a mid-flow nipple that won’t overwhelm a tiny baby but will allow a 5 or 6-month-old to be fed efficiently. Dole out the formula packets one at a time – if she eats the first, then make her another. I suggest two bottles so you can have one cleaning and/or drying and still have access to another to use. The smaller bottles are easier to pack and handle and since you’ll only be making 4-ounce batches, the 5-ounce bottle is the perfect size.
1 bottle Medela quick clean breast pump & accessory sanitizer
Although this cleaner was designed for the breast pump pieces, it’s also a baby bottle cleaner. It disinfects non-porous surfaces (including against coronavirus) and doesn’t require rinsing afterward. Preclean bottles to the best of your ability, then just spray and let stand for 10 minutes to disinfect. This is available and most baby stores, Walmart, etc – but for some reason it’s not on Amazon. Def get a bottle or two, though – the ability to disinfect with a spray and not have to rinse afterwards is key.
LifeStraw with collapsible bottle
Almost any personal filtration system will work, but this is my preference. The collapsible bottle is easy to pack, and if we know anything about having babies – it’s better to have more bottle options than fewer. The straw can also be used in-line with your backpack bladder, which will help you refill when you have the chance. Obviously the ideal situation is to use distilled and filtered water with formula, and using this is the last choice – but knowing that you can utilize a water source if you absolutely have to is important.
Do I like cloth diapers to use as actual diapers? No, I do not. In real life, I buy disposable diapers on sale and in bulk. But in an emergency carrying around a case of disposable diapers is completely untenable. Even if you’re sheltering at your home, it may be hard to buy/store enough diapers to last. Your grandma did cloth diapers, maybe even your parents did it – you can do it in the short run. How many do you need? My answer is “pack everything else first, then fill every other spare inch with diapers. They’re wipes, they’re handkerchiefs, they’re soft – just keep these around for everything.
Safety pins are useful not just for diapering, but they have a host of things they can be used for if needed. Keep them on hand and in your bag. There’s a reason that MacGyver seemed to always end up with safety pins around.
These are small, light, inexpensive, and easy to pack. Your goals in an emergency are to keep you and your baby dry, clean and as sanitary as possible. If you have two of these you can have one drying and have another ready for use.
Going just uncovered diaper will increase the chances your baby will leak on you and his/her environment making it much harder to keep everyone clean. These are cheap and easy to use. I suggest grabbing one that’s a little too big rather than the opposite. A bigger one will work with a smaller baby but you can’t get a big baby into the smaller cover leg holes. Moms with multiple kids who have had to raid Peter’s diaper stash to cover Paul’s butt are all too familiar with this.
What about wipes? You’re probably asking yourself. I don’t actually have wipes in my emergency bag. GROSS. Here’s why, though: disposable wipes run out. Quickly.
If you’re relying on them you have to be worried in the back of your mind about how many you have left, and where you’re going to get more when you’re out. That’s critical brain space you need for other things. The only thing between you and being out of wipes is one big number two. A cheap sports bottle, though? It’s basically a baby bidet.
You can get a sports spray bottle for almost nothing at the store – and between that and the extra diapers you can shove into the space where you would have had wipes, you’re all set. Also, you can use the bottle as storage when you’re packing for all the single-serving packets. I suggest one of the more squishy squeezy bottles – easier to pack.
I learned about Calmoseptine from a buddy whose first child had a brutal diaper rash. He heard about it from a nurse friend. It’s his secret weapon. Don’t look for it in the baby section at the drugstore, it’s usually back by the medical devices. Although this stuff is my preference, any zinc diaper cream is fine if that’s all you can get. Nurses and hospitals use Calmoseptine for bed sores and feeding tubes, so it’s like the diaper cream you can get but it seems to work so much better on my kids.
In an emergency situation, do your best to not allow rashes to fester to the point that the skin breaks. I use this stuff at the first sign of redness. Broken skin is where infections can happen, so keeping skin clean, dry, and as irritation-free as possible is key.
Health and first aid
First and foremost: CONSULT A PHYSICIAN BEFORE USING ANY OF THESE THINGS. I am not a doctor. My highest training on this stuff is that one time I did the baby CPR class and some general first aid training. That said, I *have* been in a situation before where, for instance, my pediatrician has told me to give Tylenol to a baby under the age of two.
In an emergency being able to fight dehydration, fever, allergic reaction, and wounds/infection is a must. I would rather be in a position to have Tylenol on hand if I have a baby with a fever should I receive a doctor’s instruction, then not have access to any. Again though, I AM NOT A DOCTOR – CONSULT A DOCTOR BEFORE GIVING YOUR BABY ANYTHING.
Pedialyte powder packets
Like the Enfamil packets, these are amazing. Being able to access an electrolyte solution in case of emergency is so critical. They’re easy to pack and preventing and fighting dehydration is critical.
Cheap, light, thermometer
Don’t get one of those heavy ear things. Just get a light and easy thermometer – also keep the covers.
Those sucker bulbs are great, light, and easy to pack. Keep a spare.
A pair of nitrile gloves
Always have a pair of gloves in case of emergency. I prefer nitrile because you never know if the person who needs your help might have a latex allergy.
Gauze pads/Waterproof tape
“Why not bandaids?” you might be asking. Here’s the thing about bandaids – they only come in whatever size you buy them in. You can make a little bandaid with tape and gauze, but you can’t make a little bandaid bigger if you need more coverage.
Always keep a pair of good scissors, not just for cutting bandages, but really for almost anything. Keep them away from baby, but my preferred scissors are the relatively cheap men’s barber scissors that you can get in the grooming section of the store. They’re small, light, easy to pack and keep a pretty good blade.
These are small, easy to pack, and can be used to disinfect in a pinch. Toss a few in the bag.
This relatively inexpensive antiseptic spray can just loop on to your bag. I keep them in my purse, car and medicine cabinet.
Again. I AM NOT A DOCTOR and it is not recommended to give Tylenol to children under two. But, it’s better to have it in case of fever if a doctor instructs you to use it, than wish you had it.
One of the tricky things about allergies is that you never know when they’ll appear. Having a topical and liquid antihistamine on hand TO USE AT A DOCTOR’S DIRECTION can be useful. If you or your children have a history of anaphylaxis, an EpiPen might also be a thing you also need to add.
No matter what you need to deliver, droppers in a plastic wrapper are cheap, easy, light, and hugely useful.
Here are a few things I keep in every bag in the house. Hopefully you don’t need them – but like all the stuff here – better to have it and not need it than wish you had it.
Matches in a waterproof case
You always want to be able to make a fire if you need it.
The nice thing about these little blankets is that they fold into a tiny square that’s easy to stash or put into a small pocket, but can be the difference between freezing or not. DO NOT LEAVE A BABY ALONE WRAPPED IN IT. They are basically a giant plastic sheet and if you need to use it on your baby make sure you are holding her the whole time and it stays clear of her face.
Small flashlight with batteries
Always keep a flashlight with you – if the electricity goes out you’ll be shocked how dark it gets.
A Leatherman-style utility tool
You never know when you’re gonna need to MacGyver the things. There are plenty out there for under $20.
You may be super anti-pacifier in your normal life. I totally respect that. But I suggest you toss a few in the bag anyway. In times of stress, babies can sense it. They KNOW if you’re tense. If they have to go somewhere new this can just compound.
When you’re a Mom, what noise makes you more stressed than anything in the world? (Besides silence, if you have a toddler.) A baby crying. If you’ve done everything else, the baby is fed and clean and you feel like you just can’t get them to calm down, it’s ok to do whatever you need to do to get comfort to them and for yourself. The sucking reflex helps babies to relax. Give yourself a pass and if you need it, you have them.
An object that makes you feel grounded
I’m Catholic, so for me this is just a simple Guardian Angel prayer card. For you it could be a photo, beads, a coin – really anything. Just pick an object that can help you get re-centered and put it in your bag. You might think this is some mumbo-jumbo woowoo – but hear me out:
The MOST important thing you have in a crisis is this: your brain. Your ability to be brave, strong, creative, thoughtful, and hopeful will make the difference for you and your baby. We all operate better when we’re in the correct mindset.
If you need it, and as often as you need it, pause, breathe, and pray or re-center. Fear can be a great motivator, but it can also cloud your mind. Look down at that little person – you’re ok, they’re ok. On to the next challenge.