Breastfeeding A NICU Baby

Breastfeeding a NICU Baby

So, your baby is in the NICU (Neo-Natal Intensive Care Unit) and this is not the way you planned your perfect delivery that you had in mind, right?

First of all let me say if you’re reading this, I know how upsetting this is. I know mama, it sucks! Go ahead and cry your eyes out because only another mom who has been there can truly understand this pain.

This isn’t at all how you pictured things would go.

Even though I went through this almost 8 1/2 years ago, I remember it perfectly. It is one of the hardest things a mother deals with right after having a baby.

You wait 9 months to hold that precious little baby and then she/he is taken from you and put in the NICU which can be so far away from your hospital room!

You feel shocked, scared, exhausted, and yet you still want to breastfeed your baby so they can get healthy as fast as possible!

If you can breastfeed and offer that to your baby right now, that it the best thing you can do!

Every NICU baby’s story is different and some might be so sick that they aren’t able to be nursed at all. If you are able to breastfeed or pump your milk for your baby that is in the NICU, then keep reading!

Here are tips to get you through the first week your baby is in the NICU and hopefully on the road to recovery and breastfeeding them at home soon!

Breastfeeding a NICU baby is no easy task but I’m here to help you through it!

Breastfeeding a NICU baby

Here is a photo of my little Peanut. Not the best picture but my husband only took a few photos of my daughter when she was in the NICU.

nicu baby

Let your doctors and team know you plan to breastfeed!

NICU breastfeeding policy

This is so important!!

I didn’t have much support from certain nurses in the NICU 8 years ago when I told them I wanted to breastfeed my daughter. However, every medical team and NICU is different so be sure to tell them your plan!

Most hospitals today do encourage moms to breastfeed their baby so hopefully things are easier for moms who want to nurse their baby. You can always call your hospital and check if they have a NICU breastfeeding policy before you deliver so you are prepared.

Even if you aren’t able to hold your baby right away, you can still pump and may be able to syringe feed them your milk. You must make sure you have your spouse or someone tell your medical team your plan so you are able to do this and they expect to see you in the NICU every 2 hours! 

Hopefully they will also send in a lactation consultant to help you at this important time.

Depending on your situation, the nurses will let you know when to come down to the NICU to feed your baby and when you can rest.

This is a very challenging and exhausting time for you as a mom. However, try your best to get down to the NICU as often as you can!

You will be totally wiped out

This is the hardest part with having a baby in the NICU. Right after delivery, you are exhausted!

If you just had an emergency c-section then you may be feeling completely out of it from the medications and exhausted on top of everything else!

The problem with this situation is that your baby isn’t next to you! You have to physically get up and walk or get rolled (in a wheel chair) down to the NICU to see your baby and breastfeed them.

This was the hardest part for me because if you miss a feeding, the nurses will have to give your baby formula if you aren’t there in time.

I was also in so much pain from my emergency cesarean that by the time I got down to the NICU, I needed to rest. Rest is so important for you so you have the strength to nurse your baby and walk down there every 2 hours or less!

Do what you can the first few hours, have a nurse in the NICU help you breastfeed for the first time! If you are having difficulty and it’s your first baby, make sure to ask for the lactation consultant in the hospital. They are wonderful and will help you breastfeed properly!

And remember, if you need to rest, then do so! You can still breastfeed or pump later! The more rest you get and the stronger you are, the more milk you’ll be able to pump!

A mother’s breast milk changes to meet the needs of their baby at every stage of their baby’s life! What this means is that if your baby is a preemie, your breast milk is made especially for your new baby! It is the safest and healthiest food for their little bellies. Your breastmilk has important nutrients and immunities that help your premature baby so much at such a crucial time. (Source)

For more information on breastfeeding preemies, check out

Pumping while your baby is in the NICU

Start pumping ASAP!

If your baby is premature, very sick, or you are just completely exhausted and can’t make it down to the NICU as often as you need to, start pumping!

Make sure to ask for an electric pump and start pumping right away!!!

If you are a first-time mom, you WILL NOT pump a lot of milk at first so don’t let this discourage you!! Keep pumping though because at least you’ll get the ball rolling and can give your baby some drops of colostrum which is very important!

I pumped constantly and would go down to the NICU every hour and a 1/2-2 hours so I could feed her my milk or at least try. It was so frustrating because I would pump constantly and get only a few drops of milk. Even if that’s all you get, take those drops down to the NICU because every little drop counts!

If you did have a C-section, your milk may take even longer to come in. Don’t give up, just keep pumping! It make take up to 3 days to come in, but it will!

Below are some of my favorite breast pumps. You can bring your own from home or borrow one of the pumps they have at the hospital.

I used the Medela backpack style which was amazing and held strong through 3 babies and years of breastfeeding!

Medela also makes a purse/bag style that’s a favorite of many moms as well. You can click the photos for more info. 👇


If you are having trouble with your milk coming in, I also suggest trying Fenugreek supplement or a lactation tea that helps you boost your milk supply!

Here are a few things I’ve tried that work great!


Feeding Tube

If your baby is being fed through a feeding tube, the nurses in the NICU can have you directly pump your milk so that it goes into the feeding tube and your baby can get all of the benefits from your milk.

Yes, it stinks because it’s not the same as directly nursing them. However, the more you can pump and give your baby, the more nourishment they’ll receive and hopefully the quicker they will be out of the NICU!

Most premature babies will be fed through a tube so this is very common. Just remember, it may not be the most ideal way of feeding your baby but they are still getting all the benefits of breast milk from you!

Syringe feeding

Once I was able to hold my daughter and breastfeed her in the NICU, I had to use a syringe to help me. She was so tiny and having a lot of trouble latching onto me.

Being a first-time mom didn’t help matters either since I didn’t know what the heck I was doing!

I didn’t have any milk pumped yet so the nurse put formula in a syringe and basically dropped the formula into my daughter’s mouth while she was on my breast at the same time.

This helped show my baby where she was supposed to latch on and get her to start sucking. It also helped bring my milk in as well.

The first few times were very challenging and stressful. I was worried I’d have to use that syringe forever! Luckily, I kept pumping and pumping and finally my milk came in!

The next time I went to the NICU to nurse my daughter, I still needed assistance with the syringe but this time only for a few seconds until my daughter latched on and had my breastmilk!

It was amazing! So keep at it mama and don’t give up!

For tips on breastfeeding after a c-section, click here or the photo below! 

Breastfeeding tips after c-sections!


Nipple Shield

Once you are able to hold your baby and nurse them, they may not latch properly right away. Your baby was used to either feeding tubes, pacifiers, or syringes so this is all together different.

It’s always best to consult a lactation consultant first before using a nipple shield.

A nipple shield not only protects your nipples from hurting in the beginning but it also helps premature babies and any baby to latch correctly!

A nipple shield has saved me from so many nursing issues and helped me and my babies dramatically!

Below are some of the nipple shields I used. You can click the photos for more details. Always get the bigger size if you aren’t sure which size to buy!

There are pros and cons of using a nipple shield. Read this post about the pros and cons of using a nipple shield if you need more information. 👇

Breastfeeding with a nipple shield

Stay Positive

This may be easier said than done but hang in there and stay positive! If you truly want to breastfeed your baby, then just keep pumping and don’t give up! Talk to your doctor and lactations consultants they have at the hospital to help you!

The first few weeks of breastfeeding any baby is difficult but you definitely got a rough start! Do what you can and get your rest because remember if mommy isn’t happy, then baby won’t be happy either! 

Need More Help?

If you need more help and would like step by step information on how to breastfeed your baby with The Ultimate Breastfeeding Class!

This is an affordable 90 min breastfeeding class video that is perfect for new moms! I honestly wish they had something like this when I first breastfed my daughter. You can learn more about The Ultimate Breastfeeding Class Here! 👇

Breastfeeding class

You may also be interested in:

Breastfeeding tips for first time moms


Breastfeeding necessities and must haves!      



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