Feeding your baby in an emergency (for babies aged 0–12 months)

During an emergency normal daily life is disrupted and in some cases people may need to leave their homes. This can be particularly difficult for mothers and people caring for babies. The advice below will help you to feed your baby safely during an emergency.

Have a plan

Emergencies can happen at any time with little or no warning.

Babies are at more risk of becoming dehydrated or getting an infection so they need special care and attention in an emergency. It is important to have a plan for what you will do in emergencies and have emergency supplies ready so that you can keep your baby safe and healthy.

In an emergency

Breastfeeding remains the best way of feeding your baby

In an emergency, breastfeeding remains the best way of feeding your baby, especially if clean water and electricity is not available. Breast milk is safe and helps your baby fight off infections. Wherever possible, breastfeeding should be continued and supported in an emergency. 

If your baby isn’t breastfed

Where babies are not breastfed, a properly prepared, commercial infant formula is the only safe alternative. 

Cows’ milk should not be given as a drink to babies less than 12 months of age. 

If you are formula feeding your baby you will need infant formula, clean water as well as feeding and sterilisation equipment to look after your baby in an emergency. Your usual water and power supply may be disrupted so you will need alternative methods for sterilising equipment and purifying water for preparing formula.

Feeding Your Baby in an Emergency pamphlet

The pamphlet Feeding Your Baby in an Emergency: For babies 0–12 months (PDF, 311 KB) contains information for parents and caregivers to assist with feeding babies during an emergency. It has advice for parents who are breastfeeding their baby and parents who are feeding their baby infant formula. 

  • Part One (GET READY) advises parents and carers how to ‘get ready’ and prepare for an emergency. It lists the emergency supplies that you will need to look after your baby in an emergency.
  • Part Two (GET THRU) provides information on how to get through an emergency and gives advice on feeding your baby without your usual water and power supplies.

We recommend that families discuss their preparations for an emergency, including the needs of all members of the household.

Our position statement

The Ministry of Health’s Position Statement: Infant Feeding in an Emergency for babies aged 0–12 months (PDF, 134 KB) contains information about New Zealand’s emergency preparedness and response obligations and best practice evidence for feeding babies in an emergency.

Find out more from the Ministry

The Ministry of Health’s Guide for DHB Emergency Management Staff: Infant Feeding in an Emergency (for babies aged 0–12 months) and Roles and Responsibly: Infant Feeding in an Emergency (for babies aged 0–12 months) provide specific information on infant feeding for emergency response planners. You can download these at Infant Feeding in an Emergency.

General information about health agencies’ planning for and responding to emergency situations is available in the National Health Emergency Plan.

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