As if life with an infant or toddler isn’t busy enough, right? During a Boil Water Order, we need to take some extra steps to ensure that the water we’re using is safe for everyday use.
In preparing for this blog, I’ve waded through some contradictory information about what parents should do to keep their homes, selves and babies safe. With research and a fact-checking phone call to an expert at MA Health and Human Services, I’m sharing some practical suggestions. As always, check with your health care provider for recommendations specific to your situation.
Some definitions I’m using below:
Tap water: This is untreated water directly from your faucet. This water is not currently considered clean or safe for drinking, cleaning or food preparation – some of this water is essentially open-air pond water treated with chlorine. However, the risk of illness for healthy adults is very low, even if there has been some accidental ingestion. Infants and immune-compromised people are at greater risk. Learn more about this tap water.
Clean Water: I’m using this term to refer to bottled spring water, or, water treated from your tap. To treat tap water, bring your largest pots of water to a full, rolling boil for 2 minutes and then cover and allow to cool. This water is now considered safe to use for drinking, tooth-brushing, food preparation, making baby formula, or sponge-bathing a baby. Do not boil longer than 2-3 minutes. It’s not necessary, and boiling down the water may concentrate any heavy metals in the water.
Disinfecting Soak: Add one teaspoon of household bleach to two gallons of water (use a large pot), or, one tablespoon of bleach to a sink-full of water (about 4-6 gallons). This dilute bleach solution may now be used as a soak to for dishes, baby bottles, collars and bottle nipples, breastpump parts, teething toys, etc. After soaking for 5 minutes, remove and allow to air dry. No further rinse is necessary.
How to keep yourself, your children and your household goods clean.
Adults should wash hands as usual with soap and tap water but finish off with a squirt of hand sanitizer.
For babies and toddlers, wash hands with a diaper wipe or a paper towel and Clean Water (bottled or boiled then cooled). Little hands go right into the mouth, so don’t use untreated tap water or hand sanitizer on your child’s hands.
Showers & Bathing
Adults can shower as usual, but avoid allowing water into your mouth. Nursing moms can breastfeed after showering and drying off. There is no need to disinfect your skin.
Because babies and toddlers like to lap at bath water and eat their tub toys, avoid tub baths until the boil-water order is lifted. For our little ones, it’s safer to do a sponge bath with a wet washcloth and a bowl of Clean Water.
Cleaning baby items including bottles, nipples, sippy cups, teethers, etc.
Wash your bottles, sippy cups and pump parts as usual, with tap water, dish soap and a bottle brush to get into the nooks and crannies. Then, soak items in Disinfecting Solution for five minutes (as above), remove and allow to air dry. OR, bring a large pot of boiled water to a rolling boil for two minutes, then add items. Allow to boil for 2 more minutes then carefully remove and air dry.
For breastpump parts:
With the boil-water order in effect, use only Clean Water (pre-boiled & cooled, or bottled) to wash your pump parts, OR, after washing with soap and tap water, soak items in the Disinfecting Solution for 2 minutes, remove and air dry.
Easier options and helpful for home or the workplace include using Medela’s Quick Clean Wipes to clean pump parts, then allow to air dry. Quick Clean Wipes are antibacterial, food-safe disinfecting wipes that are also great for hard surfaces like highchair trays and plastic toys. Medela’s Microwave Steam Clean Bags to steam clean bottles and pump parts are also effective. Use only Clean Water in the Quick Clean Bags.
For moms pumping at work, you may refrigerate your pump parts rather than washing in between uses, then on arrival home, use one of the above methods to clean and/or disinfect your pump parts. Current research indicates that refrigerating breastpump parts may effectively prevent short term growth of bacteria. (Note: these suggestions are for women expressing for healthy, term babies in the community. Special precautions may apply for premature or immunocompromised infants – check with your baby’s health care provider).
If you have an older dishwasher without the Sanitize option, you may still use your dishwasher to wash your dishes, bottles, sippy cups, breastpump parts and teether toys: be sure to select a dishwashing detergent containing bleach (as stated on the label) to serve as a disinfectant. (Per MA Health & Human Services recommendation).
Preparing baby formula, food, coffee/tea, ice cubes and/or rinsing fruits and vegetables.
To mix formula (powdered or concentrate), only use tap water that has been boiled for two minutes and cooled, or use bottled spring water. For infants under one month of age, some experts recommend using only ready-to-feed formula which is a sterile product.
For food preparation (rice, oatmeal, pasta, etc), bring water to a rolling boil for two minutes, and then it is safe to use for cooking. Allow water to cool, and use it to make ice cubes, coffee or tea, or for washing fruits and vegetables.
As inconvenient as these additional steps are, it makes me thankful that 360 days out of the year, I take it for granted that I can turn on my tap and have fresh, clean and safe water readily available. It makes me think about how many million people on this planet never have that option, getting sick from contaminated water, or needing to make a trek of several miles each day to collect water to use for washing or drinking.