Menu

8 Tips to Help You Breastfeed In the NICU

Yes, you can have a successful nursing relationship with your NICU baby.

8 Tips to Help You Breastfeed In the NICU

NICU -- four letters no one wants to think about when they’re pregnant or about to give birth. But as much as ignorance is bliss, what actually helps us when things veer off course is being prepared and informed about our options. And that’s especially true if you want to breastfeed your NICU baby.

Breastfeeding and keeping your milk supply up when your little one is in the neonatal intensive care unit can be stressful. You are dealing with your baby’s special needs right now; and though studies show that premature babies need breast milk even more than full-term babies, NICUs in America are often not set up to support early breastfeeding. But with a good support system and a little know-how, you can push through these obstacles and initiate a healthy, successful nursing relationship while your newborn is still at the hospital.

FEATURED VIDEO

Here are 8 tips to help you nurse your baby in the NICU and get you both on the road to a beautiful breastfeeding journey.

1. Extend your birth plan to your postpartum wishes. Everyone talks about the “birth plan”-- or what we, at Birth Day Presence, like to call your “birth preferences.” While you’re thinking about your birth preferences, it’s wise to make an “in case of NICU” plan or requests, with a specific focus on breastfeeding. Mention the fact that you want to breastfeed, do skin-to-skin as much as possible, and do everything you need to keep your milk supply up.

2. Find out ahead of time how the NICU at your hospital works. If your baby ends up in the NICU, can you stay with him or her? For how long? Do they have International Board Certified Lactation Consultants on staff to help NICU babies breastfeed and to help new moms express breast milk for the babies who can’t nurse yet? Can you sleep next to your baby overnight? (Note that, unlike Swedish NICUS, a lot of the facilities in America can’t accommodate parents overnight because of lack of space or insurance issues. But it’s worth asking ahead of time).

3. Begin breastfeeding as soon as you can. Most progressive NICUs will prioritize breast milk and breastfeeding. But there’s still the misconception that premature and other babies in intensive care can’t breastfeed. But it’s really not the case. So read on the topic and be prepared to advocate for yourself and your baby.

4. Consider hiring your own Lactation Consultant. To effectively breastfeed a preemie or any baby with special needs, you might need support with latch, flow, and more. If the hospital doesn’t offer someone who can really sit with you and help you nurse your baby who might be connected to wires and other medical support, hiring a private consultant can make a big difference.

5. Start expressing your milk as soon as possible. If you can’t breastfeed yet but baby can take your milk, give him or her colostrum and then breast milk as it matures. That said, not all babies are able to feed by mouth while in the NICU. Some will need sustenance through an IV or feeding tube. So begin expressing colostrum by hand or breast pump as soon as possible. This will let you body know that it needs to make breast milk. You’ll need to express milk as often as your baby would breastfeed (about 8-12 times in every 24-hour period) in order to create and keep up your milk supply. You can ask the hospital for a double-electric pump, which is the most effective, and lactation consultants can provide support and guidance in doing this.

6. If possible, stay in the NICU near your baby. Bring in a lounge chair or a cot if you have to! If it is possible to stay with your baby, do. If this simply is not possible, consider staying in a hotel right next to the hospital so that you can come in easily to nurse or hold or touch or talk to your baby.

7. Give your baby as much skin-to-skin time as possible. It will do wonders for you and your baby. To learn more, check out Mary Esther Malloy’s interview with Nino Birth’s amazing founders Dr. Nils Bergman and Jill Bergman here. There are many carriers out there that make this easy and possible, like The Nesting Days or Vija Skin-to-Skin Shirt. If for some medical reason you are truly unable to hold your baby, ask if you can at least touch and talk to him or her.

8. Learn more about Donor Breast Milk. If you cannot produce breast milk, there are many wonderful resources to still provide your little one with the best nutrients possible. Donor breast milk is a great alternative to consider.

9. Persist, even when you get home. If breastfeeding in the NICU just wasn’t possible, do skin-to-skin with your baby as much as possible, every day. Just relax together at home and let your baby freely suck or lick your nipples. Even if the baby doesn’t latch, skin-to-skin can really help, and it is still possible to start breastfeeding at this stage. Again, a breastfeeding professional can help.

We all hope our babies don’t end up in the NICU. But if yours does, you don’t have to be sidelined. Whether it's love, skin-to-skin contact, breast milk, or any combination of those, what you have to offer will crucially complement the doctor’s care as your baby gets strong and stable enough to come home. If breastfeeding in the NICU proves impossible, know that no matter how your baby feeds, the love and care you and your team provide is the most important thing.

Original photography by JADA SHAPIRO, BIRTH DAY PRESENCE.

I felt lost as a new mother, but babywearing helped me find myself again

I wish someone had told me before how special wearing your baby can be, even when you have no idea how to do it.

My first baby and I were alone in our Brooklyn apartment during a particularly cold spring with yet another day of no plans. My husband was back at work after a mere three weeks of parental leave (what a joke!) and all my friends were busy with their childless lives—which kept them too busy to stop by or check in (making me, at times, feel jealous).

It was another day in which I would wait for baby to fall asleep for nap number one so I could shower and get ready to attempt to get out of the house together to do something, anything really, so I wouldn't feel the walls of the apartment close in on me by the time the second nap rolled around. I would pack all the diapers and toys and pacifiers and pump and bottles into a ginormous stroller that was already too heavy to push without a baby in it .

Then I would spend so much time figuring out where we could go with said stroller, because I wanted to avoid places with steps or narrow doors (I couldn't lift the stroller by myself and I was too embarrassed to ask strangers for help—also hi, New Yorkers, please help new moms when you see them huffing and puffing up the subway stairs, okay?). Then I would obsess about the weather, was it too cold to bring the baby out? And by the time I thought I had our adventure planned, the baby would wake up, I would still be in my PJs and it was time to pump yet again.

Slowly, but surely, and mostly thanks to sleep deprivation and isolation, I began to detest this whole new mom life. I've always been a social butterfly. I moved to New York because I craved that non-stop energy the city has and in the years before having my baby I amassed new friends I made through my daily adventures. I would never stop. I would walk everywhere just to take in the scenery and was always on the move.

Now I had this ball and chain attached to me, I thought, that didn't even allow me to make it out of the door to walk the dog. This sucks, I would think regularly, followed by maybe I'm not meant to be a mom after all.


Keep reading Show less
Shop

Every week, we stock the Motherly Shop with innovative and fresh products from brands we feel good about. We want to be certain you don't miss anything, so to keep you in the loop, we're providing a cheat sheet.

So, what's new this week?

Meri Meri: Decor and gifts that bring the wonder of childhood to life

We could not be more excited to bring the magic of Meri Meri to the Motherly Shop. For over 30 years, their playful line of party products, decorations, children's toys and stationery have brought magic to celebrations and spaces all over the world. Staring as a kitchen table endeavor with some scissors, pens and glitter in Los Angeles in 1985, Meri Meri (founder Meredithe Stuart-Smith's childhood nickname) has evolved from a little network of mamas working from home to a team of 200 dreaming up beautiful, well-crafted products that make any day feel special.

We've stocked The Motherly Shop with everything from Halloween must-haves to instant-heirloom gifts kiddos will adore. Whether you're throwing a party or just trying to make the everyday feel a little more special, we've got you covered.

Not sure where to start? Here's what we're adding to our cart:

Keep reading Show less
Shop

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that newborns, especially, do not need a bath every day. While parents should make sure the diaper region of a baby is clean, until a baby learns how to crawl around and truly get messy, a daily bath is unnecessary.

So, why do we feel like kids should bathe every day?

Keep reading Show less
Learn + Play