First of all, don't panic.
I remember exactly how I felt when the lights flickered and then the entire house was dark. Panic took over almost immediately and it was so overwhelming I almost didn't hear my son's screams because he was afraid of the sudden dark. An unexpected spring snowstorm had knocked over a tree that fell on an electric post on our road, leaving us completely in the dark for 72 hours in freezing temperatures. My twins were 4-weeks-old and the only thing I could think of was "I need to keep them warm" as my husband scrambled to get flashlights and get everyone in the same room so he could figure out what to do next.
We got through those 72 hours with the tips I'm sharing below and, by the time winter came and we lost power again for another 48 hours, we were ready. We had learned from our total inexperience (it was our first snowstorm as full-time Maine residents, a right of passage) and this time around I didn't panic.
Here are the useful tips that helped us when we lost power + heat:
1. Keep your breast pump, phones and flashlights charged always.
When the power went out that first time, I was exclusively pumping for the twins and making about 60oz of breastmilk a day (I know, I KNOW). I had a portable battery-operated pump that was like my fourth child that came with me wherever I went, which meant I didn't charge it as frequently as I should've. When my next pumping session rolled around I realized the battery was almost dead and I started sobbing. If I couldn't empty my boobs, I would end up with mastitis pretty quickly. Thankfully my husband is half MacGyver and he found a way to charge my pump with an inverter in the car (we ended blowing up the fuse after it was fully charged, oops). But I learned my lesson. Make sure you always have the essentials fully charged at all times: phones, pumps, even check the batteries in flashlights every couple of months.
2. Invest in a hand pump.
If you are exclusively pumping I highly recommend investing in a hand pump just in case. Beyond helping when power goes out, you can have it in your car or diaper bag to break out in case of (boob) emergency.
3. Close all the doors to rooms and keep everyone in a central room.
This will keep the heat you still have in the house from spreading throughout your house. If the room everyone is in has windows, close curtains to prevent heat from leaving the house through cold windows.
4. Don't open freezer or fridge doors too often to keep the cold in for longer.
Opening and closing the doors often leads to cold air leaving the refrigerator, which in turn will make your perishables go bad faster. According to the FDA "The refrigerator will keep food cold for about 4 hours if it is unopened. A full freezer will keep the temperature for approximately 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed".
5. If it's freezing outside, put your frozen food/breast milk on your porch to stay frozen.
If temperatures outside are below freezing you can put all your frozen food to chill on your porch or backyard, after your freezer is too warm that things start defrosting. If you have breastmilk you can put the bags in a cooler with snow around and keep it all outside. Always check to make sure breastmilk hasn't started to defrost before you put it back in the freezer.
6. Fill water buckets to flush toilets, boil to make formula, etc.
As soon as the power goes off, fill up buckets (or even your bathtub) with water. You can use it to flush toilets, boil to make formula, boil to cook, or anything else you may need. You can also gather snow and melt it over heat (like an oven or near a fireplace) to make water if you run out of collected water. I learned that our bathtub's drain doesn't fully close and lost all the water I had collected within hours of doing so.
7. If you "drink" snow, melt it first by holding it against your body.
If you can't melt snow and have run out of water, don't just eat snow. Your body burns a lot of energy melting the snow internally, so instead put it all in a cup and keep it against your body for some minutes and then drink melted snow.
8. Tents keep in the heat.
If you have camping tents lying around pop them up over beds or in the central room everyone is hanging out for extra warmth. It can also turn a scary situation for kids into a fun adventure by "camping" in the living room with flashlights and plenty of blankets. If you are sleeping in the tent without a mattress or pad, make sure to add layers of blankets under you as well as over you, since you can lose heat into the floor/ground.
9. Invest in battery-operated sound machines.
My kids cannot sleep without one, so the first time we lost power we had some very rough nights as they could not fall asleep in total silence. Having a sound machine will also help mute sirens from emergency vehicles working in your area.
Here are some product recommendations mentioned above:
This lightweight manual breast pump has an ergonomic easy-express handle to reduce hand fatigue. It can be easily carried in any bag while traveling for quiet pumping sessions.
Choose from bright white noise, deep white noise, or gentle surf, then set your volume - anywhere from whisper-quiet to impressively robust. Hushh lets you take control of the sound environment, excellently masking background noise and allowing for better sleep and effective soothing for kids and babies. A gentle amber LED Nightlight provides just enough light to see by without causing wakefulness for parent or baby.
This one has over 2,300 five-star reviews on Amazon. Always remember to have your car running in open spaces (not your garage!) to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning which can be deadly.
This one has over 10,000 positive reviews on Amazon. Provides the best protection during power outages. Battery safeguard makes it difficult to close the cover without batteries in the unit. Low battery signal alerts user when the batteries need to be replaced. Slide-out battery door cover gives immediate access to batteries