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Breastfeeding Your Preemie in the NICU

By Kristine Repino, author of the preemie book Jacob's Journal

A pump wasn't what I had planned, but it was the most important thing I could do for him. Encouragement for breastfeeding your preemie in the NICU.

I personally recommend breast-feeding and providing breast milk for the baby for the duration of his stay in the hospital. Though you might not have planned on it initially, you more than likely weren't planning on the birth of your baby so soon either. His circumstances are different now than they would have been.

In the last three months of pregnancy, an infant receives antibodies from his mother to build a strong immune system protecting him from infection and disease. A premature infant may miss out on this special protection, but the mother's milk can provide the necessary antibodies he needs. Her body knows that her baby was born too early and her milk will contain more protein, fat, and other nutrients for the first weeks after birth to provide for his special needs.

My initial experience with breastfeeding was far from what I had expected. After reading volumes of information on the subject, I decided it was for me. I'd anticipated the precious moment my child and I would have together, bonding. I would cradle him in my arms only minutes after his birth and teach him the art of "latching on." But, when the time came, he was whisked off in a matter of moments not to return.

I found myself alone in postpartum recover. I wouldn't see him for several hours and knew he wasn't capable of breast-feeding. A nurse soon entered my room and asked if I needed information on renting a pump. A pump? What was she talking about? She went on to explain that Jacob wasn't even capable of drinking from a bottle and would need to be fed from a tube inserted down his throat. I wasn't sure what to do so I said ok.

A few minutes later another lady came into my room and proceeded to demonstrate how the contraption worked. I was scared. I had "studied" breastfeeding and thought I knew how the contraption worked. I was scared. I had "studied" breastfeeding and thought I knew all there was about it; but pumping my breast milk, what if I couldn't do it? Mostly, I had expectations of bonding with my baby in a way I thought I could only experience by nursing. I decided to rent a pump anyway. I did get the hang of it and because Jacob couldn't be fed right away, the hospital provided me with small bottles to store my milk in. It was stored in a freezer at the NICU, labeled and dated.

As time passed, Jacob soon received breast milk. I felt good knowing he would receive the nutrients that were in my first breast milk. I remember the nurses encouraged me and supported me whenever I had questions or concerns. They made me feel like I was really doing something special for Jacob; something only I could give. There were lactation consultants to talk with also, especially if I had concerns or needed more personal help.

While Jacob was still in the hospital, I did have the opportunity to nurse him. I wouldn't have missed that for the world! It was more fulfilling than I had anticipated and what I realized in that moment was that my son and I had been bonding all along.

If you do choose to breastfeed, there will be times when feedings will be supplemented by a bottle, most likely at night. There is a lot of controversy on whether this will encourage nipple confusion. That is to say that the baby will reject one for the other, possibly because he finds one method easier to master. I wasn't concerned because Jacob took to the breast as easily as he did the bottle and never preferred one over the other. Each child is an individual and it is possible that he will choose the easier route; after all, he has to work so hard to everything else. If you do decide to bottle feed exclusively or choose to on occasion, this is the perfect opportunity for dad to get some hands on experience and a chance to bond as well.

Copyright Kristine Repino 2006

Kristine Repino is the mother of three, her oldest son was born prematurely weighing just under 3 pounds. This article is excerpted with author permission from Jacob's Journal, Evidence of Hope, a sweet and encouraging book for parents of new preemies. Read review or order Jacob's Journal, Evidence of Hope.

Surviving the NICU - Premature Baby
Surviving the NICU

Preserving Preemie Memories
Keeping a Preemie Baby Diary
The Emotional Roller Coaster
Developmental Supportive Care
Feelings of Touch and Pain
Breastfeeding Your Preemie
Kangaroo Care Benefits
Physical Care of Your Baby
Every Preemie Parent Needs to Know
NICU Baby Monitors

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Born Too Soon
Tommy's Early Start
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Kangarooing My Little Miracle
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