In a recent study published in the Journal of Human Lactation, researchers at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia set out to understand what breastfeeding means to NICU moms. What they learned is that the term “breastfeeding” doesn’t necessarily have to mean putting the baby to breast.
No matter if a NICU mom chooses to feed her baby by breast (when ready) or continue to pump, providing adequate lactation support is a key element of breastfeeding success. We consulted a group of NICU moms on what types of support they found most helpful in the NICU, and what kind of support they wished they had.
Supportive and frequent visits from lactation consultants
I was blessed to have LC check on me often, either by stopping by in the NICU or calling me, and also explaining everything pump related.
When it comes to lactation consultants, NICU moms want someone who will show them how to properly use the pump, especially in those hazy hours post-delivery. They want info on the different sized flanges how to clean them, and how often to pump.
Moms also want an LC to check on them often and tell them what they need. The NICU is an overwhelming whirlwind, and moms aren’t always comfortable asking for help – or they don’t know they can.
Parents, ask for a lactation consultant to visit with you as soon as possible, even if you’re not ready to put baby to breast. Some will even visit with you in your hospital room to help you start pumping (a postpartum nurse may also help with this, in the absence of a lactation consultant). If you have any questions at all, ask for the LC to come by your room or your baby’s bedside. They are there to help.
After discharge, consider seeking advice from a lactation consultant outside of the hospital. Your feeding goals will change once baby is home, and a third party LC can help guide you through your breastfeeding journey at home.
Other moms said:
• Have the LC check in with mom to see how it’s going more than once. I was feeling like quite the failure when my milk hadn’t come in and my kid wouldn’t latch…I was also too embarrassed to ask for help.
• I’d suggest a LC stopping by once every few days if the nurse noticed momma struggling. Or just a general check in. I’ve reached out to lactation even after discharge. They know their stuff and are amazing ladies!
Get your partner involved
Your partner may feel as helpless during this time as you do. This one small task will help them feel like they are contributing (because they are!).
My husband has been actively helping with assembling the pump parts, washing etc. I think if partners could be encouraged to be engaged in the process it would be very helpful.
If you’re a NICU dad/partner, you are going to be one of the closest sources of support during this time. Learn how to assemble the pump parts while Mom is still bedridden, and wash them once she’s done pumping.
Take the pressure off breastfeeding
When I showed up one day the NICU nurse said, “Let’s just try it.” I explained that my other two children wouldn’t latch and I exclusively pumped. She said, “Well, let’s see.” And sure enough baby boy latched and is an amazing breast feeder.
The pressure to produce milk in the first few days is overwhelming for many NICU moms. Then, sometimes weeks later, the idea of putting baby to breast seems unreal, especially for first time moms. Gentle encouragement with small goals and no pressure keeps stress levels low and gives her a positive start to her breastfeeding journey.
Other moms said:
• The best thing I was ever told was don’t get disheartened if you only get a couple drops at first! I wish there was more support on how to pump properly, help with what size flange you need and how often you should pump to keep your supply from dropping.
• Being encouraged to pump/feed bedside. I felt awkward undressing to do these things because nobody ever told me what was “normal.” I tried to stay fairly covered even though nobody made me feel uncomfortable. Even with skin to skin, I never knew how naked to get!
Pumping by the bedside is one way moms can bond with their baby and increase milk supply; however, a comfortable and inviting lactation room provides moms privacy and a chance to take a short break without having to leave the NICU.
Breastfeeding in the NICU takes on many forms. With the right support and guidance, moms can hopefully provide their babies with the breast milk they need for as long as they want.
What type of breastfeeding support did you find most helpful? In hindsight, what support do you wish you’d had?