Advice from the experts: Preparing for disasters

Information for pregnant women and families with infants

Q&A with Miriam Erdosi, associate director of program services with the March of Dimes California Chapter

Are you a pregnant woman, or a parent with an infant? Do you know what to do in case of a disaster? Emergencies and disasters can be stressful, especially if you are pregnant or caring for an infant. Making plans ahead of time and knowing what to do when a disaster occurs can help keep you safe during an emergency.

Everyone has to be ready for disasters, but why is it important for pregnant women? What about for moms of infants?

The needs of a pregnant woman during a disaster are unique. Even if you are experiencing a normal pregnancy, the stress of a disaster may increase the risk of preterm labor, low birthweight and miscarriage. Pregnant women have special medical needs that require monthly, and in some cases, weekly prenatal checkups, if you are pregnant and are experiencing a high-risk pregnancy such as multiple gestations — twins, etc. — or gestational diabetes, (which is) diabetes that develops while pregnant, preparing in the event of a disaster can help ensure that even if your prenatal care is disrupted, that you have the basic necessities to take care of yourself and your pregnancy until a provider becomes available.

Disasters can be a very stressful and disruptive time for families. Ensuring that pregnant women and families with infants are prepared ahead of time with the recommended supplies in their disaster preparedness kits is critical to help keep them safe during an emergency.

Babies need lots of attention. Do parents of infants have time to think about preparedness?

Disaster preparedness is all about preparing ahead of time so when disaster strikes, you and your family are ready.

What special risks are there for pregnant women, or families with infants?

The biggest risk for pregnant women during a disaster is the risk of delivery during and/or after a disaster strikes. Preterm labor is labor that begins before 37 weeks of pregnancy, and the signs and symptoms of preterm labor include:

  • Contractions that make your belly tightened up like a fist every 10 minutes or more often
  • Change in the color of your vaginal discharge, or bleeding from your vagina
  • The feeling that your baby is pushing down, called pelvic pressure
  • Low, dull backache, cramps that feel like your period and belly cramps with or without diarrhea.

All pregnant women regardless of a disaster should know these signs and symptoms of preterm labor. Pregnant women should also discuss an alternative birth location with their provider should the hospital you are planning on delivering at is not be accessible. In the high likelihood that a pregnant woman should become displaced and have to go to an emergency shelter, she should have a copy of her prenatal care record with her and inform shelter officials upon arrival that she is pregnant.

What's the most important thing moms can do to be ready for disasters?

Prepare yourself and your family ahead of time! Especially if you live in a region of the country that is prone to natural disasters. You wouldn’t bring your newborn home from the hospital without having at least the minimum of supplies in your home to keep him safe, fed and cared for and being prepared can help control the stress of an already stressful situation and keep your family going until life returns to normal following an emergency

Do pregnant women and families with infants need any special supplies for their preparedness kits?

Yes, the needs of pregnant women and families with infants are different in the event of a disaster. Pregnant women should have a copy or a “portable” version of your prenatal medical record in the likely event that her prenatal care with her regular provider is disrupted. It is also recommended that pregnant women have their prenatal vitamins and any other medications in her disaster kit. Also a supply of nutritious foods such as protein bars, nuts and dried fruit, extra bottled water, maternity clothes and baby clothes.

Pregnant women should also include a set of emergency birth supplies in the event that labor occurs during or immediately after a disaster. These emergency birth supplies should include: clean towels, sharp and clean scissors, infant bulb syringe, two white shoelaces, sterile gloves, sheets and sanitary pads.

Pregnant women should also keep a set of baby clothes and at least two baby blankets in their emergency kit. Families with infants should prepare and anticipate the needs of your infant during a disaster should resources and/or electricity become unavailable.

It is recommended that families with infants have two baby blankets; diapers, wipes and diaper rash cream to last up to seven days; extra baby clothes and closed-toe shoes for an older infant to protect their feet; and an extra baby sling or carrier in the event you need to walk a long disaster to safety.

American Public Health Association