After spending 5 weeks in the NICU when my babies arrived early I could probably write a book on surviving the experience but I'll save that for another time and instead leave you with my three top tips for being a breastfeeding mom in the NICU. When you have a baby (or two) in the NICU it can feel very overwhelming. Breastfeeding might take a little longer to become established and there may be a few bumps in the road so here are three tips to help you get started.
Frequent Skin to Skin
Once your baby is stable in the NICU ask the nursing staff to help you hold your baby skin to skin. These first skin to skin cuddles are so important for both mom and baby. Spending time away from your brand new baby can be really difficult so spend as much time as possible having skin to skin cuddles and getting to know each other. Snuggling your baby skin to skin has also been shown to increase mothers milk supply. Skin to skin isn't just for mom either, other close family members can snuggle and bond with your baby too.
Your baby may not be ready to go to the breast right away so it's important to start pumping and expressing milk. The first colostrum feeds your baby receives are important for providing immunity and protection. Your baby may be receiving their first feeds through a tube before they are ready to try feeding from the breast. While you are in the NICU, pump at your baby's bedside to stimulate oxytocin and milk production. While you are away make sure that you have a good quality pump and that you are pumping frequently and storing your breastmilk safely. Make sure that you ask the NICU nurses how they want you to be storing your breastmilk and bringing it in to the NICU for your baby's feeds while you are away.
Take Care of Yourself
Being an NICU parent is really difficult and can be very emotional. You will want to be with your baby all the time and not being able to stay with them is heartbreaking. Wether your NICU journey is a few days or a few weeks, it's important to take some time to allow yourself to adjust. Having a baby in the NICU likely wasn't how you expected your pregnancy to end so take some time to adjust to this experience. If your stay in the NICU extends into weeks give yourself permission to take care of yourself. Make an appointment to get your hair done, hire someone to clean your house, dedicate an afternoon to simply rest. Reducing stress will help maintain your milk supply. Try to make sure that you are eating, drinking and resting enough so your body is able to produce as much milk as possible.
Breastfeeding during and after an NICU stay is absolutely possible it just might start slower and look a little different initially. Working with a Lactation Consultant in the NICU and having LC support when you get home will help build your breastfeeding confidence.
Have you had a baby in the NICU? Feel free to share your experience in the comments.