Imagine if – just for a day – you couldn’t wash the dishes, take a shower, water the house plants, wash your hands/ teeth or use the washing machine.   These are just a few of the things we take for granted in our privileged part of the world.   We have safe, mains water piped to our homes.   It comes on with the flick of a switch or the turn of a tap.   We look on with pity at the TV pictures of those less fortunate than ourselves, the women queueing for water at a pump and washing their clothes in rivers.   We remind ourselves that we are fortunate because in the Western World this is not something we have to deal with:



The dangers are obvious. UNICEF says:

‘Unsafe drinking water, along with poor sanitation and hygiene, are the main contributors to an estimated 4 billion cases of diarrhoeal disease annually, causing more than 2.2 million deaths worldwide.  Of these, some 1.5 million occur in children under five.’

Apart from the other risks associated with formula feeding of infants, it is an accepted fact (even amongst those who use formula) that the risks of powdered formula milk is increased hugely when the water supply is poor.  I have often heard people (including my own relatives) say

‘formula is fine, it’s only a problem in the Third World where they don’t have clean water’.

But we don’t live in the Third World though, do we?  

So that’s ok then….  

Unless – like me, you live in the ‘developed world’ and still don’t have a clean water supply. 

I haven’t had water in my home since 26th December.   My neighbours haven’t had it since the 22nd.   You might think ‘sure that’s no big deal, brush your teeth with bottled water and fill up at your neighbours house’.   Yup – that’s what I thought too.   Thing is, my neighbours are off, my family too, and the shops have sold out of bottled water.   I can no longer get through to the water board and their website is down.   We were promised a delivery of ’emergency water’ on the 27th, but of course nothing arrived.   The last time I spoke to someone from the Northern Ireland Water Board their advice was to collect snow and rainwater. 

This is a photo of every pot and pan I own filled with water.  That was before it went off.  My husband thought I was mad.

I have no idea when it will be fixed.   Not only have the mains pipes burst due to extreme weather here over the past couple of weeks, but when that happened somehow local reservoirs also ended up being drained.   Unlike years ago, our town no longer has a functioning well (of course not, that’s positively primitive isn’t it?) – so we literally have nowhere to turn.   To be honest it’s a total nightmare, and not for the first time I thought about the realities of trying to formula feed a young baby in such a situation.

You think it can’t happen to you don’t you?

You’re wrong.

 ‘About 80% of the world’s population lives in areas where the fresh water supply is not secure, according to a new global analysis. Researchers compiled a composite index of “water threats” that includes issues such as scarcity and pollution.’ 



The chances are, that if you’re reading this blog, you probably live in one of the ‘high stress’ areas of this map.   I confess this map shocked me but like many things I was able to push it out of my mind when I first saw it…   However, nothing brings the realities of water stress home to you more than wondering how you’re going to cope without water for an unspecified amount of time.

My daughter is two years old, and so far she has been able to have water from a safe source throughout this ‘wet drought’.   I am very lucky!   I could boil rainwater for her and make it ‘safe’, but I don’t know exactly what chemicals that rainwater will contain.

‘Fine particles or soot, a large fraction of which are formed from the same gases as acid rain (sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide), have been shown to cause premature deaths and illnesses such as cancer and other diseases’ ~

 If I were formula feeding a young baby, quite frankly I’d be very worried.   Not only have the supermarkets here sold out of bottled water – they’re also very low on pre-made formula.   Even when they do have some left, it isn’t going to necessarily be the right brand, and babies react differently to different brands…

It’s just a minefield. It’s not something many mums consider when they’re struggling with breastfeeding, but I can’t help but wonder how many new mums here in Northern Ireland are struggling to sterilise and make up clean bottles for their babies?

Was it even a consideration for anyone when they took the decision to stop?

I KNOW it’s not easy to breastfeed sometimes, and good support and advice is so often not there when people need it – but global warming is a reality.

We may well face increasing strain on our vital water supply.   We can no longer look out of our ivory towers and down our noses at the third world where formula feeding is more dangerous, since we are facing the same problems. I can’t help but feel that we, in the west, have become complacent.   We have no idea how to treat our planet and we think we’re invincible.   The truth is, it only takes a few days of sub-zero temperatures to leave thousands of homes without water in the UK.   I would put money on it happening again too.

Personally, I’d like to see a few more of these:


I have lots of empty bottles and buckets here as well as a wheelbarrow to put them all in.   I just have nowhere to fill them up.   Once I finish this post I’ll ring my sister to see if she had any luck getting water out of my cousin’s well.   It’s located in the yard of an C18th farmhouse and it was dug long before anyone took our natural resources for granted.….   Back then everyone breastfed, they grew their own food, made their own clothes and were self-sufficient.   We have lost all of this resourcefulness.  

I am, however, seriously considering buying a wood-burning stove with a couple of hot plates on the top before next winter.   We seriously need to rethink our priorities and get some balance back into our way of living.

The biggest irony in all of this?   My wifi is working perfectly.   The phrase ‘fur coat and no knickers’ springs to mind!

*ETA – my water supply was restored after 72 hours.  How fantastic it was to fill up the dishwasher and press the button…..!  How fortunate are we?   However, I am aware that elsewhere in the province, thousands STILL DO NOT have any clean water!   This is a link to a news item broadcast two days ago which I shared with members on our Facebook group.   I think it shows clearly how serious the situation is for many formula feeding families in this part of the world.   Northern Ireland has the lowest breastfeeding rates in the UK by a considerable margin.   I wonder how many mums wished during this crisis that they were still able to breastfeed?  

Most of all, I will be very interested to see if – during this time of water-poverty – breastfeeding rates go up here in Northern Ireland, however temporarily.


Piece originally published on ‘Dispelling Breastfeeding Myths’ – 28th December 2010

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