A labor of love...Breastfeeding in the NICU
I was terrified that my body would not know to start producing milk after my emergency csection. I didn’t make it to the third trimester- how would my body know it needed to start feeding twins?
Thankfully, with the wonderful help of the NICU lactation consultant and supportive NICU nurses, I was able to pump until my boys were strong enough to practice latching. I went on to continue pumping until my boys were strong enough to exclusively nurse, and eventually tandem feed my twins.
For moms who want to breastfeed, whether that be by pumping, nursing, or both, here are tips that I hope will be helpful during your nicu stay.
1) Stay hydrated and eat!!
Make sure to drink a TON of water. (Always have the big hospital water bottle filled and near you), and eat healthy foods. Your body needs calories for a good milk supply.
2) Pump, Pump, and pump some more!
It is going to be exhausting. Pumping is a labor of love, especially in the NICU. But breastmilk is supply and demand, so if you are not pumping at least every 3 hours(it was recommended for me to pump every 2 in the beginning) it may be harder to maintain a strong supply.
While you are pumping, looking at your baby or pictures/videos of your baby will help encourage the milk to flow.
3) Massage! The nicu lactation consultant showed me how to massage before and during pumping sessions to help fully empty the breast. This truly does make such a difference, and can also make pumping time shorter because your milk may empty faster.
4) Skin to skin between pump sessions! This is one of the main reasons my milk supply stayed strong enough to pump enough and eventually breastfeed.
1) Pump until you are empty.
2) Do immediate skin to skin for at least an hour (your chest should be completely bare against your baby- not even a tank top on because that is fabric separating you)
3)Pump again immediately after skin to skin.
During and after each kangaroo time that I did this, I could feel myself filling back up and I’d need to pump again anyway. Having your baby against your bare chest helps signal those milk making hormones, and also helps bring the baby’s body temperature up to where it needs to be, among many other benefits. Skin to skin is just the best.
5) Utilize the NICU lactation consultant. I remember requesting help every time she was working. The most helpful latching advice I got was “nose to nipple!” Essentially, your nipple should be at baby’s nose, and the smell of your milk will help them open wide for a good latch. If baby doesn’t have a good latch, it’s going to cause pain and they won’t be able to full empty your milk. Don’t be discouraged if they latch and you realize it’s not good- just unlatch and try again! Practice makes perfect. It takes patience in the beginning, but soon it will become second nature for both you and baby.
6) Have your partner involved! My husband was my biggest supporter, helping me position my boys when I tandem fed, washing the pump parts in between pumping sessions, and bringing me snacks because I was always hungry.
I hope these tips are helpful in your nicu feeding journey. I know not every mom is able to do skin to skin right away, so some of these tips may not be helpful just yet. I’ve been there, and while I only had to wait a few days to hold my babies, it felt like an eternity. To see your baby and not be able to hold them when instinctively that’s all you want to do, is crushing. For any mama reading this that has not yet held her baby, I pray that very soon they will be in your arms.
If you have any other great NICU pumping or breastfeeding tips to add, please share with