Caring for your family in a disaster

KEY POINTS

  • If you’re pregnant or have a baby to care for, being prepared for a disaster can help you keep everyone safe and healthy.

  • If you’re pregnant or have young children, talk to your family’s health care providers to plan what to do in case of a disaster.

  • Plan with your partner where you’ll go if you have to evacuate (leave the area where you live).

  • Pack a “disaster bag” with clothes, shoes, supplies and medicine.

  • Be aware of dangers, like unsafe food, water and chemicals, in and around your home after a disaster.

What is a disaster? 

A disaster is an event that brings extreme stress into your life. It may happen as a part of nature, like a flood, earthquake or storm. These often are called natural disasters. Or a disaster may be a car accident, a crime or a terrorist attack. It can affect: 

  • Where you live
  • How you get food and gas
  • Having electricity, heat and air conditioning
  • Having phone service
  • How you move from place to place
  • How you get medical care

If you’re pregnant or already have a baby, taking care of yourself and your family can be stressful by itself, and even more so in or after disaster. Being prepared can help you cope. 

How can you get prepared before a disaster? 

Here’s what you can do: 

  • If you’re pregnant, talk to your health care provider about what to do in case of a disaster, especially if you’ve had pregnancy complications or you’re close to your due date. If you already have a baby, talk to his provider about a disaster plan. If your baby is in the neonatal intensive care unit (also called NICU), ask about the hospital’s plan. 
  • Be ready to follow local or state evacuation instructions. Officials will tell you when to evacuate (leave) and when it’s safe to go back home. Talk to your partner about where you’ll go if you have to leave. You may be able to stay with family and friends, or you may need stay in a shelter. If you’re pregnant, find out about hospitals in the area where you’re planning to go. 
  • Tell your providers where you plan to go and how to contact you. If you have a case manager or are in a program like Healthy Start or Nurse Family Partnership, tell your case manager your plans and your phone number. A case manager is someone who helps you get health care.
  • Make a list of important phone numbers, including your partner and your providers. Keeping these numbers in your phone is great, but its battery may run low. Write the numbers on paper, too.  
  • Get copies of medical records for you, your partner and your children, including a list of medicines each of you takes and vaccinations you’ve had. If you’re pregnant, include the name of your prenatal vitamin on the list. Your baby needs regular scheduled vaccinations, especially after a disaster. If you can’t get to your baby’s provider because of a disaster, ask your local health department about how to keep your baby on schedule.   
  • If you’re pregnant, learn the signs of preterm labor. This is labor that happens before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Stress can lead to preterm labor, and what’s more stressful than a disaster? If you have any signs of preterm labor, call your provider right away. If you’re in a shelter, tell someone in charge that you need medical care.  
  • Pack a “disaster bag” of clothes, medicine, vitamins, snacks and supplies that may be helpful to you if you have to leave your home.

Here’s what you can put in your disaster bag:

  • Clothes and medicine for you and everyone in your family. Make sure you all have comfortable shoes. 
  • For your baby, diapers, toys, pacifiers, blankets and a carrier or portable crib. You also can include a rectal thermometer and non-aspirin liquid pain reliever. 
  • Food, snacks and bottled water. If your baby eats formula or baby food, include them. Pack chlorine or iodine tablets to treat tap water (water from a faucet).
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Batteries, flashlights and a portable radio
  • Prenatal vitamins
  • If you’re breastfeeding, a manual pump and clean bottles

What can you do about unsafe food and water from a disaster? 

If you can’t refrigerate or cook food because of a disaster, it may spoil. Harmful bacteria and viruses can grow in or on spoiled food. These can make you and your family really sick. Don’t eat or feed anyone in your family spoiled food or food you think may be spoiled. A food may be spoiled if it looks or smells bad or if the date on the package has passed. 

If you don’t have drinking water in your home or if you’re worried that it’s not safe to drink, use bottled water. Follow official announcements about tap water (water from your faucet) and instructions about how to boil tap water for cooking, cleaning and bathing. 

If you can’t boil water, use chlorine or iodine tablets. Follow the directions on the package. Don’t use water treated with iodine or chlorine to prepare formula for your baby. And keep water that’s been treated away from your children. 

Sometimes flooding happens with a disaster. Flood water may contain harmful substances like bacteria that may cause serious disease. Protect yourself with rubber gloves and boots, and don’t let your baby near the water. Use soap and clean water to wash any parts of you or your baby that may come in contact with flood water. If you or your baby swallows flood water and gets sick, tell her provider right away.

What can you do about harmful chemicals from a disaster? 

During disasters, chemicals may be damaged at places like manufacturing plants, oil refineries and even farms and homes. These chemicals may get into the air and water where you live. 

Listen for state and local announcements about harmful chemicals in your area. Local officials may not let you return home until they’ve made sure the area is safe. Tell provider if you think you or your baby has been exposed to harmful chemicals. Or call the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (also called OTIS) at (866) 626-6847.

If you think you or someone in your family has been exposed to harmful chemicals:

What can you do if a disaster damages your home? 

If your home has been damaged, ask family and friends to help with repairs and clean up. There may be disaster workers in your community who can help. Depending on your home’s condition, you may need to hire professionals to do the work. 

When you and your family return home:

  • If you’re pregnant, don’t do hard, physical work, like lifting and carrying heavy items. 
  • Be careful of falling on stairs or when stepping over debris (pieces of things damaged or destroyed).
  • Stay away from exposed electrical wires to keep from getting shocked.  
  • Stay away from bacteria and mold on walls, floors, furniture and carpet. You may need to hire professionals to remove mold from your home. 

How can you relieve stress that comes with a disaster? 

To help with physical stress, rest as much as you can, don’t get overheated and try to eat regular, healthy meals

To help with emotional stress, share your worries and concerns with a friend, family member, health care provider or counselor. Try to talk to someone for at least a few minutes each day. 

The stress of a disaster can affect your relationships. Abuse from your partner or anyone else is never OK. It’s not OK to be hit, kicked or pushed. It’s not OK for someone to yell at you, scare you or call you names. If you’re being abused, tell a friend or your provider. Or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TDD).

If you’ve recently had a baby, be aware of the baby blues and postpartum depression (also called PPD). These conditions can affect how you feel and act. Baby blues are feelings of sadness that may begin 3 to 5 days after having a baby and usually go away about 10 days after your baby’s birth. If they don’t, tell your health care provider. PPD is strong feelings of sadness or worry that last a long time. PPD can happen any time in the first year after having a baby. If you’re worried about the baby blues or PPD, tell your provider. If you’re worried that you may hurt yourself or your baby, call 911. 

More Information

American Red Cross

American Association of Poison Control Centers

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

See also: Disaster kit preparedness (.PDF, 459KB), Earthquake preparedness (.PDF, 390KB), Emergency preparedness (.PDF, 413KB), Hurricane preparedness (.PDF, 410KB), Tornado preparedness (.PDF, 350KB), Wildfire preparedness (.PDF, 455KB) 

Last reviewed: May, 2016

What is a disaster? 

A disaster is an event that brings extreme stress into your life. It may happen as a part of nature, like a flood, earthquake or storm. These often are called natural disasters. Or a disaster may be a car accident, a crime or a terrorist attack. It can affect: 

  • Where you live
  • How you get food and gas
  • Having electricity, heat and air conditioning
  • Having phone service
  • How you move from place to place
  • How you get medical care

If you’re pregnant or already have a baby, taking care of yourself and your family can be stressful by itself, and even more so in or after disaster. Being prepared can help you cope. 

How can you get prepared before a disaster? 

Here’s what you can do: 

  • If you’re pregnant, talk to your health care provider about what to do in case of a disaster, especially if you’ve had pregnancy complications or you’re close to your due date. If you already have a baby, talk to his provider about a disaster plan. If your baby is in the neonatal intensive care unit (also called NICU), ask about the hospital’s plan. 
  • Be ready to follow local or state evacuation instructions. Officials will tell you when to evacuate (leave) and when it’s safe to go back home. Talk to your partner about where you’ll go if you have to leave. You may be able to stay with family and friends, or you may need stay in a shelter. If you’re pregnant, find out about hospitals in the area where you’re planning to go. 
  • Tell your providers where you plan to go and how to contact you. If you have a case manager or are in a program like Healthy Start or Nurse Family Partnership, tell your case manager your plans and your phone number. A case manager is someone who helps you get health care.
  • Make a list of important phone numbers, including your partner and your providers. Keeping these numbers in your phone is great, but its battery may run low. Write the numbers on paper, too.  
  • Get copies of medical records for you, your partner and your children, including a list of medicines each of you takes and vaccinations you’ve had. If you’re pregnant, include the name of your prenatal vitamin on the list. Your baby needs regular scheduled vaccinations, especially after a disaster. If you can’t get to your baby’s provider because of a disaster, ask your local health department about how to keep your baby on schedule.   
  • If you’re pregnant, learn the signs of preterm labor. This is labor that happens before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Stress can lead to preterm labor, and what’s more stressful than a disaster? If you have any signs of preterm labor, call your provider right away. If you’re in a shelter, tell someone in charge that you need medical care.  
  • Pack a “disaster bag” of clothes, medicine, vitamins, snacks and supplies that may be helpful to you if you have to leave your home.

Here’s what you can put in your disaster bag:

  • Clothes and medicine for you and everyone in your family. Make sure you all have comfortable shoes. 
  • For your baby, diapers, toys, pacifiers, blankets and a carrier or portable crib. You also can include a rectal thermometer and non-aspirin liquid pain reliever. 
  • Food, snacks and bottled water. If your baby eats formula or baby food, include them. Pack chlorine or iodine tablets to treat tap water (water from a faucet).
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Batteries, flashlights and a portable radio
  • Prenatal vitamins
  • If you’re breastfeeding, a manual pump and clean bottles

What can you do about unsafe food and water from a disaster? 

If you can’t refrigerate or cook food because of a disaster, it may spoil. Harmful bacteria and viruses can grow in or on spoiled food. These can make you and your family really sick. Don’t eat or feed anyone in your family spoiled food or food you think may be spoiled. A food may be spoiled if it looks or smells bad or if the date on the package has passed. 

If you don’t have drinking water in your home or if you’re worried that it’s not safe to drink, use bottled water. Follow official announcements about tap water (water from your faucet) and instructions about how to boil tap water for cooking, cleaning and bathing. 

If you can’t boil water, use chlorine or iodine tablets. Follow the directions on the package. Don’t use water treated with iodine or chlorine to prepare formula for your baby. And keep water that’s been treated away from your children. 

Sometimes flooding happens with a disaster. Flood water may contain harmful substances like bacteria that may cause serious disease. Protect yourself with rubber gloves and boots, and don’t let your baby near the water. Use soap and clean water to wash any parts of you or your baby that may come in contact with flood water. If you or your baby swallows flood water and gets sick, tell her provider right away.

What can you do about harmful chemicals from a disaster? 

During disasters, chemicals may be damaged at places like manufacturing plants, oil refineries and even farms and homes. These chemicals may get into the air and water where you live. 

Listen for state and local announcements about harmful chemicals in your area. Local officials may not let you return home until they’ve made sure the area is safe. Tell provider if you think you or your baby has been exposed to harmful chemicals. Or call the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (also called OTIS) at (866) 626-6847.

If you think you or someone in your family has been exposed to harmful chemicals:

What can you do if a disaster damages your home? 

If your home has been damaged, ask family and friends to help with repairs and clean up. There may be disaster workers in your community who can help. Depending on your home’s condition, you may need to hire professionals to do the work. 

When you and your family return home:

  • If you’re pregnant, don’t do hard, physical work, like lifting and carrying heavy items. 
  • Be careful of falling on stairs or when stepping over debris (pieces of things damaged or destroyed).
  • Stay away from exposed electrical wires to keep from getting shocked.  
  • Stay away from bacteria and mold on walls, floors, furniture and carpet. You may need to hire professionals to remove mold from your home. 

How can you relieve stress that comes with a disaster? 

To help with physical stress, rest as much as you can, don’t get overheated and try to eat regular, healthy meals

To help with emotional stress, share your worries and concerns with a friend, family member, health care provider or counselor. Try to talk to someone for at least a few minutes each day. 

The stress of a disaster can affect your relationships. Abuse from your partner or anyone else is never OK. It’s not OK to be hit, kicked or pushed. It’s not OK for someone to yell at you, scare you or call you names. If you’re being abused, tell a friend or your provider. Or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TDD).

If you’ve recently had a baby, be aware of the baby blues and postpartum depression (also called PPD). These conditions can affect how you feel and act. Baby blues are feelings of sadness that may begin 3 to 5 days after having a baby and usually go away about 10 days after your baby’s birth. If they don’t, tell your health care provider. PPD is strong feelings of sadness or worry that last a long time. PPD can happen any time in the first year after having a baby. If you’re worried about the baby blues or PPD, tell your provider. If you’re worried that you may hurt yourself or your baby, call 911. 

More Information

American Red Cross

American Association of Poison Control Centers

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

See also: Disaster kit preparedness (.PDF, 459KB), Earthquake preparedness (.PDF, 390KB), Emergency preparedness (.PDF, 413KB), Hurricane preparedness (.PDF, 410KB), Tornado preparedness (.PDF, 350KB), Wildfire preparedness (.PDF, 455KB) 

Last reviewed: May, 2016