Navigating breastfeeding in the Neonatal intensive Care Unit (NICU)
If your baby was born prematurely, they will spend time being cared for in the NICU. Having your baby stay in the NICU can be a difficult experience and you may feel concerned about being able to breastfeed.
While in the NICU, you might not be able to feed your baby directly from your breast. You can ask your provider for a prescription to receive human breastmilk! When your baby is ready you will be able to practice breastfeeding. This time together will help you bond more with your baby.
Check out this amazing resource for Black families during their stay in the NICU. The toolkit is available HERE.
Milk storage at the hospital:
Your breastmilk is still the best choice of food for your premature baby and contains healing properties designed to suit their needs. Your milk strengthens your baby’s immune system to fight off illness and protects and develops their organs.
It is encouraged to pump while your baby is at the NICU. Make sure you store your milk properly.
Storage after each pumping:
Keep milk at room temperature. Breastmilk is OK for up to 4 hours after pumping at room temperature (up to 77°F).
Refrigerate it. Breastmilk is OK in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
Place milk in the freezer. If you're not going to use refrigerated breastmilk within 4 days of pumping, freeze it right after pumping.
Use cooler packs. You can put breastmilk in a cooler or insulated cooler pack with frozen ice packs for up to 24 hours after pumping. After 24 hours in a cooler the breastmilk should be refrigerated or frozen.
How to breastfeed your preterm baby:
While holding your baby, you may notice them try to move towards your breast. Gradually, as they develop and get stronger, they will be able to breastfeed directly.
The first time you try it, the hospital staff may ask you to express first, then put your baby to your breast. This is so your baby is not overwhelmed when your milk lets down.
At first, your baby may only lick the breast, then next time take a few sucks until they gradually become happy and confident feeders. You can combine tube feeding with breastfeeding until your baby is getting everything they need from the breast only.