Perhaps you weren’t expecting it, but here you are in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) with your preemie baby. There is a lot to digest, including breastfeeding in the NICU.
Don’t Wait to Breastfeed Until You are Discharged
Your little one needs the nutrients even more than a full term baby. Your breastmilk is suited to fulfill your premature baby’s nutritional needs. It is important for your baby’s development and growth. Plus it also protects your baby from infections and illnessBreastfeeding your baby as soon as they are able will help to stimulate your milk supply. Ask for help from a lactation consultant in the NICU if needed. In fact delaying breastfeeding until after you leave the NICU increases the likelihood that your child may never breastfeed.
What Is Colostrum?
Colostrum is the first milk a mother will produce after birth. Some women may have a thick yellow milk whereas other women may have a clear and watery fluid. It is loaded with infection fighting components.
Your body will produce colostrum for the first five days after the baby is born. Premature babies need more protein than full term babies and colostrum has the needed protein plus an enzyme called lysozyme. Lysozyme has bacteria fighting properties and your breast milk also has more fat and less lactose since preemies cannot digest lactose.
Early Pumping Is Recommended
Begin pumping or hand expressing within the first 2 hours after delivery. Then continue to do so every 3 hours day and night (or at least once during the night). This will ensure your body is producing adequate milk quickly. Ask the staff about a hospital grade pump.
Storing Your Milk In The NICU
It’s possible you will be discharged from the hospital before your baby can leave the NICU. In this case, freshly expressed or pumped milk can be safely stored at room temperature for up to 4 hours or refrigerated for up to 4 days. Work with the NICU staff to coordinate this process.
Working with your baby to learn how to breastfeed can be a slow and frustrating process, but it is preparing you to go home.
Get enough sleep, try kangaroo care (skin-to-skin care) and drink lots of fluids to help you produce sufficient milk and comfort your baby.
Contact Fairfax Neonatal Associates if you need help or have further questions about breastfeeding in the NICU.