NICU Nutrition: Increasing Your Milk Supply

August 7, 2017

Nutrition in the NICU, establishing your milk supply

It is not uncommon for moms of preemies and NICU babies to face challenges with milk production while their baby is in the NICU. The overwhelming amount of information give each day, coupled with the pressure to produce milk for baby can be stressful. Kay Needles, an internationally board certified lactation consultant and NICU nurse, shares with us tips for increasing milk production, as well as good practices for establishing your nursing and breastfeeding routine.

Breast milk is so important for babies that are born premature or low birthweight. Breast milk naturally provides all of baby’s nutritional needs and also their immunological needs. Antibodies found in breast milk are specific to each baby. Yes, your body is producing milk that is specifically formulated for your baby!

In the first few days after birth, you’ll establish your milk supply. At this time you’ll want to pump between eight and twelve times a day, and you’ll not want to go more than six hours at a time without pumping. If the milk is not being taken from your breasts, that tells your body that you don’t need to be producing as much milk. The more frequently you can pump and get a good milk supply established, the better supply you will have over time.

Here are a few strategies moms can use to increase milk supply (see below for helpful infographic!):

• Set up an environment that’s relaxing. Set yourself up in a comfortable chair with as many pillows as you need. Sometimes comfortable chairs in the NICU are hard to come by, so don’t be afraid to ask for more pillows or a different chair by your baby’s bedside.

• Have a photo or video of your baby on hand. Looking at your baby helps stimulate oxytocin, a powerful hormone that aids in maternal/infant bonding and milk release, among other things.1

• Keep a glass of water or water bottle nearby. Breastfeeding makes you thirsty!

• Distract yourself with a book, magazine, TV or phone – something that will help you relax – so you’re not solely focused on how much milk you’re making.

• If possible have your partner rub your shoulders or feet to help you relax.

• Take a warm shower prior to nursing or pumping.

• Eat a well-balanced diet with plenty of protein, fruits, and vegetables and drink plenty of water. We know it’s hard to plan and put together healthy meals when you’re traveling to and from the NICU or caring for baby at home. Find suggestions for protein-packed healthy snacks to take to the NICU or keep handy at home.

• Engaging in kangaroo care with your baby is proven to improve milk production


Breastfeeding and pumping in the NICU is not always easy. It’s important that moms accept the success that they’ve had, even if they’re only able to provide a small amount of milk for their babies. Those small amounts are  better than not being able to provide any milk at all.

From challenges with milk production to the delicate dance of teaching your preterm infant to bottle and breastfeed, the nutritional needs of a preterm baby may seem ominous. Remember, you are not alone in this journey.

Nutrition in the NICU, establishing your milk supply infographic


1 “Oxytocin.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers,