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Breastmilk In the NICU Helps Baby and Parents

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Breastmilk is chock full of goodness for babies, and even more so for those who need some NICU time. If you wrote in your birth plan that you will be breastfeeding, the NICU team may already know and want to help you. Feeding breastmilk in the NICU is one way to give baby your love.

During pregnancy, when you’re writing your birth plan, it’s hard to think about planning for a NICU situation. But thinking about it ahead allows you to state in your birth plan that should a NICU situation arise, you want your baby to get breastmilk. And touring the NICU during pregnancy helps you know what to expect.

Having that statement on your birth plan means hospital staff will know how to support your desire. Remember to put that completed birth plan on your hospital bag checklist!

For many mothers, the newness of breastfeeding is complicated by this NICU situation.

And you may have a ton of emotions surrounding the reason your baby is in NICU. It’s good to acknowledge that you could feel overwhelm, fear, sadness, confusion, or even guilt.

You are a brand new mother flooded with hormones and your brand new baby is not at home with you. It’s normal to feel every emotion under the sun.

Yet committing to breastfeed, especially in the NICU, is an act overflowing with love and protection for your child. According to UNICEF, “Breast milk is particularly important for preterm infants and the small proportion of term infants with very low birth weight…”[1]

Remember that each drop of colostrum you create in the first few days after baby’s birth is potently packed with everything baby needs, and especially good for preemie development.

Consequently, the milk your body creates for your little preemie isn’t the same milk a full-term infant would get. Your body knows exactly what your still-developing baby needs.

Your new baby may not be ready for breastmilk immediately. So until then, safely store your milk.

But when she’s ready, breastfeeding helps regulate baby’s heartbeat, improve oxygen levels, and reassures her with your scent, sounds, and warmth. Since the oxytocin created when you and baby are together helps calm fear, it increases her trust and security. And breastmilk helps build her still-developing immune system, brain, vision, and digestive tract.

Holding your baby in NICU helps both of you feel safe and peaceful


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The March of Dimes suggests you:

  • Talk to the NICU lactation consultant

    They can help with information, pumping tips, self-care, feeding positions and much more

  • Start pumping immediately

    Create a set of steps for relaxation that will trigger your milk “let-down”

  • Establish milk supply

    Pumping every 2-21/2 hours, day and night will signal your body to keep producing milk. And be sure to fully empty your breasts each time

  • Feed baby when she’s alert

    She’ll have more energy to manage breastfeeding well

  • Ask NICU for a quiet room

    It helps so much to be where you and baby are undisturbed and can relax during feeding

  • You’re both learning

    So experiment and get support to find what works best for you both

  • Every drop matters

    Especially in the beginning, no matter whether you exclusively breastfeed or also supplement with formula

  • Breastfeeding is bonding

    Having skin-to-skin time with baby at your naked breast soothes and nurtures you both

NICU time is precious

Feeding breastmilk in the NICU offers both mothers and fathers other care-giving opportunities.

When one or both parents are in NICU there are many ways to nurture baby. American Pregnancy Association suggests:

  1. Touch your baby as much as possible.
  2. Talk, sing and read to your baby. Your baby can recognize your voice(s) and be comforted by hearing you.
  3. Change your baby’s diaper.
  4. Participate in your baby’s first bath.
  5. Take your baby’s temperature.

Your commitment to breastfeeding in NICU also means committing to yourself

At a time when you’re still healing, dealing with rampant hormones, and figuring out how to manage life until baby comes home, your health is also #1 on the to-do list.

Stress and exhaustion can affect breastfeeding and milk production. Just as your fierce love of baby makes you commit to the breastfeeding challenge, commit also to getting enough of what you need to recover well from birth:

Whether you exclusively breastfeed your baby or partially supplement with formula, or whether you begin to breastfeed then change to formula, every drop is an ocean of love to your precious baby.

[1]“Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding”, World Health Organization, #22.


To learn more about breastfeeding tips, download our free Birth Plan eBook now. After three years of research, collaboration with more than 100 childbirth experts and resource centers from Healthy Child Healthy World to the American Association of Neonatal Nurses, the Best Ever Baby Birth Plan Guide is available for a free download.

This new resource for pregnant families is a compilation of top tips and advice from more than 20 nationally-recognized experts in the field including renowned pediatrician, Dr. Alan Greene and GraceFull Birthing founder, midwife Elizabeth Bachner. These trusted experts offer thoughtful guidance for whatever type of birthing experience parents want, in whichever setting they choose.

Published: March 21, 2017 | By SP Turgon, Certified Labor Doula | Reviewed by: The Best Ever Baby Expert Team | Last reviewed: March, 2017


Sabriga TurgonBreastmilk In the NICU Helps Baby and Parents

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