In the event of an EMP or other worst-case scenario, it is feared that as many as 90 percent of the population will not survive. The elderly and the ill, who are dependent on soon-to-be nonexistent medicines, will be the first to succumb. Another extremely vulnerable group consists of infants in the first year of life. They are toothless, wholly dependent on adult providers, and limited to breastmilk or infant formula for the first few months of life. Babies do not have the immunologic capacity to defend themselves against the myriad of microbes that will arise in an environment that is devoid of clean water, modern sanitation, antibiotics, and vaccines.
The objectives of this essay are to describe the nutritional problems that parents with very young infants will encounter at TEOTWAWKI and how they can take steps now that will minimize those risks. Thoughtful preparation will make survival more likely at TEOTWAWKI for our most defenseless loved ones.
The Post-TEOTWAWKI Picture
Survivalblog readers are well aware that nearly everything that we take for granted in our infrastructure, especially supplies of food and water, will vanish or be greatly compromised in the kind of collapse that has been described in James Rawles’ Patriots series and in William Fortschen’s One Second After. There will be no infant formula or any kind of milk, including vegetable milks. Foods that are specifically designed for infants’ nutritional needs will disappear from supermarket shelves within days, if not sooner.
Assessing Infants’ Nutritional Requirements
For the sake of discussion we will use the term “infant” to represent all children below the age of 12 months. By that time most children can sit upright, control the swallowing mechanism, and manage to put food into their mouths, however messily. Tooth eruption is incomplete at one year, and foods that require little or no chewing may be necessary for some time into the second year.
We all require foods that yield energy, usually in the form of carbohydrates, and building materials that consist mainly of protein. Certain types of fat as well as micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals are indispensable. All will be in short supply and of varying quality during a collapse. Adults can manage in marginal conditions, but infants cannot. That’s because, starting at birth, a baby’s body changes daily, tripling in size within the first year. Less evident is the enormous complexity of the process so that the absence of a key ingredient makes normal development impossible.
Childhood rickets is a good illustration of how a deficiency of a single nutrient can change the trajectory of a life and sometimes shorten it dramatically. In early history, humans lived at latitudes where greater daily exposure of their bodies to sunlight produced adequate levels of vitamin D. When we migrated toward higher latitudes, where the proper wavelength of light is absent for half the year, childhood rickets became common because vitamin D is necessary to absorb calcium and for the proper formation of bone. Without vitamin D, rapidly growing skeletons become severely deformed and low levels of calcium may lead to convulsions and death. In addition to its critical importance in calcium metabolism, vitamin D is needed for normal immune function and affected children sometimes die from pneumonia or other infections. A female who survives childhood rickets may reach maturity with a deformed pelvis that makes it impossible to deliver a baby naturally. The consequences in a primitive or post-collapse situation are disastrous.
Since the government mandated fortification of dairy products with vitamin D, the incidence of rickets has fallen dramatically. Such foods will not be available at TEOTWAWKI. Even if milk is available in rural communities, it will not have been fortified with vitamin D, as commercial dairy products are currently. Populations at higher latitudes, where the proper wavelength of the sun’s radiation does not reach the earth’s surface for much of the year (including the upper half of the United States), will be most affected. Few foods contain natural vitamin D. Cod liver oil is one, but it will be unavailable at TEOTWAWKI. Eggs and fish contain natural vitamin D, but the former will be in high demand, and the latter may be depleted in a relatively short time.
The Role of Breastfeeding
In our two-part essay on breastfeeding (SurvivalBlog: Feeding Infants at TEOTWAWKI: The Critical Advantages of Breastfeeding), which was posted on May 16, 2014, we discussed not only the overall advantages of mother’s milk but how it could be critical to an infant’s survival. Modern infant formula is a marginal substitute for breastmilk. It will not be available at TEOTWAWKI.
The human breast is the best source of nutrition for the human infant. Anything else is a distant second. The most sophisticated recipes for infant formula do not contain the live maternal cells, beneficial bacteria, immune factors, and many other nutrients that are unique to the mother/infant dyad.
It is not unusual for a woman who has recently weaned a child from the breast to resume breastfeeding. In the extreme situation it can be done by women who are now grandmothers, but it is difficult and requires time.
Modern mothers are at a serious disadvantage, if they do not have experienced women available who can teach them the basics of breastfeeding, to offer advice and support and to help them solve problems such as breast congestion, inflammation (mastitis), sore and cracked nipples, or apparent low milk volume. None of these is a reason to stop breastfeeding, but they make it easy to do so when an unlimited supply of infant formula is no further away than the local supermarket.
It’s possible to freeze a supply of breastmilk, and all breastfeeding mothers should be encouraged to do so, even in the best of times in case of an emergency, such as a maternal illness. It cannot be stored indefinitely, and freezing is not an option when the grid goes down. Some mothers are quite good at expressing milk by hand, but for most a breast pump is indispensable. A manual pump isn’t difficult to use, but it does take some practice. It will be the only device available when there is no electricity.
It’s possible to sustain a child’s life with the milk of other mammals, but that’s a poor second choice. Lactating cows, goats, sheep, and horses may be present in rural areas at TEOTWAWKI, but the vast majority of Americans will not have access to them. Even in ordinary circumstances, unprocessed milk from cows or other animals should not be given to infants below the age of one year. It is less digestible for very young children, and in a TEOTWAWKI situation without pasteurization it may be dangerous. In spite of dairy farmers’ best precautions, it is not possible to avoid bacterial contamination of milk. This is a greater risk for infants than for older children. Specifically, infants are much more likely to develop disease from Salmonella or other harmful bacteria in milk than older children or adults.
The spectrum of diseases transmitted by unpasteurized milk and other dairy products is wide, as is well-documented in developing countries. The longer a TEOTWAWKI situation lasts the more likely that herds will become infected with disease-causing bacteria. Antibiotics will be scarce soon after the collapse begins, and they will not be available at all in a prolonged scenario. Before commercial infant formula came into wide use, the alternative to breastmilk was a homemade version using evaporated milk and Karo® syrup. These products have other culinary uses and it makes sense to have a store of both in anticipation of a growing family. They do, however, have expiration dates and should be rotated like other stored foods. A Google search for evaporated milk formula will yield several recipes. Note: Honey is not a substitute for sugar or Karo® syrup. Never give honey in any form to a child less than 12 months old because of the risk of infant botulism, which can be fatal.
Powdered and concentrated liquid formulas require safe water for reconstitution. The lack of contaminant-free water is the single most important reason for the devastating diarrhea that is the leading cause of death of infants in developing countries. We will have similar problems here in the U.S. at TEOTWAWKI.
Several articles in SurvivalBlog have described the advantages of raising goats, but their milk is not appropriate for infant feeding unless it has been considerably modified as infant formula. Its protein is more digestible than that of cow’s milk, but it has a low content of folate and vitamin B12 as well as iron and vitamin D. Goats are susceptible to a disease called brucellosis and infants are especially vulnerable. (Although the agent of brucellosis is no longer present in domestic cattle, sheep, and goats in the United States, there will always be a reservoir among wild animals.)
There is no safe, nutritious substitute for breastmilk or infant formula for children below the age of about six months. Meat broth can provide protein, minerals, and some vitamins. It is totally inadequate as a sole source of nutrients for infants, and homemade brews would vary greatly. An infusion made from grain is another possibility, but some grains, such as corn, are lacking in certain amino acids– the building blocks of protein. Most, if not all, cereal grains contain antinutrients, which are chemicals that bind to iron and calcium and keep them from being absorbed. Without supplementation from other plant products or animal foods, the result could be disastrous. A broth made from beans or other legumes might work for a short time, but it would not be adequate as the only source of protein and carbohydrate. I mention these only to make readers aware of their shortcomings.
Babies who are only a few days or weeks old can suck, but they can’t sip. Their needs include bottles and nipples, and preppers should include them in their stores. Rubber nipples have a very long shelf life in their original packaging, but they will eventually deteriorate in heat and should be stored carefully.
What about the infant that is too small or too sick to suckle either from the breast or bottle? Nurses who care for these vulnerable children feed them very slowly with an ordinary hypodermic syringe. Prudent prepping should include a supply of these in the unfortunate event of a premature delivery or the presence of a cleft lip or palate. Glass syringes are more practical in a TEOTWAWKI situation, even though they cost considerably more than plastic syringes. The latter cannot be reused indefinitely.