Tips for Pumping Breast Milk For New NICU Moms
After my whole pregnancy and the birth ordeal that I went through, I was wheeled into the NICU and saw my son for the first time.
He was beautiful and small!!
The NICU is a scary environment, with lots of hand washing, monitors, tubes, lines and sounds beeping everywhere.
So pumping breast milk for your baby is the best thing you can do, especially at the beginning of your NICU journey, to provide extra antibodies and great nutrition.
A preemie is fragile and small, so they need this nutrition and food to grow.
Therefore, pumping breast milk is soo important!
As a mom, it’s easy to feel like you cannot do anything for your baby and your baby is out of your reach.
But, actually, a mom is the most important person that any baby needs, especially a preemie.
Your breast milk is soo important for your preemie, especially at the beginning, to survive and grow.
And only you can give it!!
In this blog, I’m going to talk about the importance of breastmilk for your preemie and breastmilk pumping tips you can use early on as a new NICU mom to help establish a great milk supply.
So let’s get started!
Why is Breastmilk Important for Your Premature Baby
Your breastmilk has the most perfect nutrition with what your preemie baby needs.
It has the perfect amount of fat, protein and carbs that your baby needs right now.
Below are some of the other benefits of breastmilk for your premature baby:
Premature babies are fragile and their immune system hasn’t fully developed yet. So they are at a huge risk of developing bad infections. This is why there is soo much hand washing and wiping down in the NICU… to protect the babies! Breastmilk provides antibodies and protection for premature babies. It provides extra infection-fighting substances as a defence from infections.
Easy on the Stomach and Intestines
The stomach and intestines of a premature baby are very underdeveloped. Therefore, premature babies can have lots of feeding problems such as vomiting and big, distended belly. The big belly is from the CPAP machine or other ventilators that are pushing air into the stomach at the same time keeping the lungs open.
This is the disadvantage of CPAP, but the baby still needs it to breathe. Therefore, breast milk is important as it is easy to digest and it moves through the intestines easier. It also decreases the chances of NEC, which is inflammation of the intestines and it makes the baby really sick. Stay tuned for a blog post on NEC and what it is.
Breast milk has properties that enhances the development of brain tissue and neurological connections. This is important for every premature baby as their brain is not fully developed yet.
Strengthens the Bond between Mom and Baby
As a NICU mom, you feel like you have no control over what’s happening with your baby. The NICU world can make parents feel like they are powerless.
So when the NICU mom pumps and provides breast milk for her baby, this strengthens the bond between mom and baby. This is because you start to feel like you are doing something to help your baby. You are the only one who can provide this amazing nutrition and your baby needs you.
Breastmilk is very important for your preemie. As your baby grows, they will need more calories to grow and catch up. This is why fortification is added to breastmilk once a baby is tolerating it. I will write a blog post all about fortification, so stay tuned!
7 Tips for New NICU Moms to Establish a Good Milk Supply
I know you are exhausted, but it’s important to start pumping as soon as you get a pump and pumping supplies.
You need to start pumping within 6-8 hrs after giving birth.
In the first couple of days, you will be getting drops to 1ml… this is normal!
This is called colostrum- its yellow and thick (aka. Liquid Gold).
Colostrum is very concentrated with protein and nutrient, so your baby really needs this nutrient..
A little colostrum goes a long way!!! So keep pumping
You can also use hand expression to stimulate and empty your breast.
In the beginning, hand expression can be used instead of a pump.
Below is an amazing video on how to do hand expression.
Make sure you are pump every 2-3 hrs.
That is at least 8-10 times/24hrs.
The key is to get milk moving out of your breast, so your body sees that its needed and produces more.
Try to stick with this schedule at night as well.
Get a good and reliable pump- check out this post on 5 best breast pumps for pumping for preemie in NICU.
Try your best to not miss a night pumping, especially at the beginning of your NICU journey.
If you are exhausted, try pumping at least once at night.
Don’t let 6 hrs go by without pumping.
For most moms, it takes 3-5 days for your milk to come in.
You know your milk has come in when your breast starts to feel very full and hard. This is engorgement.
At this time, you can pump a little bit more often to get relief and to get the milk out of your breast.
Drinks Lots of Water
You should be drinking water every time you pump.
Buy a good waterbottle and always have it beside you when you are pumping.
Eat Nutritional Food and Eat Often
It’s easy to forget to eat when you are going back and forth from the NICU.
But eating well and often is very important to make breastmilk.
Always take a meal to the hospital when visiting your baby.
Always have healthy snacks in your bag that you can munch on.
Do Skin to Skin with your Baby as much as Possible
Skin to skin triggers two hormones to be released, oxytocin and prolactin.
Both of these hormones increase milk production.
Always try to schedule your pumping after skin to skin, as your body will make more milk.
How should you do skin to skin?
1. Undress baby with only a diaper
2. Hold your baby between your breast and put a blanket on them
3.Then relax and let your body do the rest
Try to Recover and Rest as much as You can
You just gave birth and you still have to leave your house, everyday, to visit your baby.
This is really hard on you and on your body.
I know it’s hard to have your baby away from you, but you should take this time to recover well.
I know you want to be at the NICU all day, but this will cause you to get exhausted.
And exhaustion and stress will decrease your milk supply.
Breastfeeding and pumping tips by Mayo Clinic stated that stress can “obstruct the body’s natural ability to produce breast milk.”
Therefore, its very important to try to control your stress level!
I know this is hard in the NICU, but try your best.
At the beginning of your NICU journey, make sure you balance the visiting of your baby with resting.
Personally, I slept in until 10 am everyday. Then I would get up, get ready and go to the hospital.
I would be at the hospital from 1pm-8pm.
Sleeping lots had really helped me recover faster from my c-section.
Try your Best to Never Miss a Pumping Session
This is really important, especially in the first few weeks of giving birth!
The night pumping is difficulty, but try your best to push through and continue to pump for your preemie.
Try your best to stay on your pumping schedule, even at night.
Your hard work now will pay off for your baby by establishing a great milk supply.
The Best Pumping Schedule to Establish a Great Milk Supply
You can create a pumping schedule based on when your baby feeds
or create a schedule that fits you that is every 2-3 hrs.
Whatever you decide to do, make sure you are consistent and you stick with the pumping schedule.
Below is an example of a breast pumping schedule:
- 8 pumping session/24hrs
- Between 8pm to 12am, you can sleep 4 hrs.
Check out Amanda’s blog for different pumping schedules you can use too. Amanda is a lactation counsellor. She has experience with exclusively pumping with her first child and she pumped with her other kids too.
She is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to exclusively pumping.
Her blog includes many sample breast pumping schedules. Check them out!
Final Thoughts: Pumping Breast Milk for Your NICU Baby is Worth It
Exclusively pumping is not easy and needs commitment.
Reflect and have the correct mindset whenever you are pumping to push you through those times you want to quit.
Always write down the time and volume of milk for every pumping session.
Keep a log somewhere… either on your phone or a journal.
Create a good pumping schedule for yourself that you can follow.
Even though exclusively pumping is not easy, it is worth it when you see your little one getting bigger and stronger.
And when your baby is ready to breastfeed, you will have enough milk for them to enjoy.
So keep pumping!
How was your milk supply at the beginning of your NICU Journey? What pumping schedule worked for you?
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I would love to hear from you!