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 nurse 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. 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! 

nicu baby

This post contains affiliate links to products I personally use. To learn more, you can read my full disclosure policy here

Let your doctors and team know you plan to breastfeed!

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. Every medical team is different but be sure to tell them your plan! This is your baby and even if you aren’t able to hold them right away, you can pump and syringe feed them your milk. You must make sure you have your spouse or someone tell them your plan so you are able to do this and they expect to see you in the NICU every 2 hours. Depending on your situation, the nurses will let you know when to come down to the NICU and when you can rest. Try your best to get down there 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 drugged up and feeling completely out of it and exhausted on top of everything else! 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 there, 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 later! The more rest you get and the stronger you are, the more milk you’ll be able to pump!

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 super 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 little drops. Even if that’s all you get, take this 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. 


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. It stinks having to do this but remember, the more you can pump and give your baby, the quicker they will be out of the NICU and able to leave the hospital with you! 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 and I didn’t know what the heck I was doing either! I didn’t have anything 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 onto and get her started sucking. It also helped her bring my milk in as well. The first few times were difficult and I thought 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 milk! It was amazing! So keep at it mama and don’t give up!

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. 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! If you are pregnant right now and plan on nursing, I tell every mom to go buy one of these now, because TRUST me when I say you WILL need this at some point of you plan to breastfeed!  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!

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! You will eventually be nursing your baby without any tubes or syringes! 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! 

You may also be interested in:

              Breastfeeding after a csection

Breastfeeding Necessities and must haves           Top Baby Products You really Need!


Breastfeeding a NICU baby

breastfeeding tips for NICU babies