NICU: Relaxing During Hospital Stay and Transitioning Home

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) can be an overwhelming place.

It’s the one place you hope and pray you never get to see. Its unfamiliar sounds and lights can be stressful to families. Sometimes, we are met with unforeseen circumstances where your brand new bundle of joy will require care here. Parents may feel helpless and not sure what or how they can help their baby. 

The breastfeeding parent may have (hopefully) initiated hand expressing and or manual/electric pumping to collect breast milk. Breast milk is treated like medicine in the NICU. Any amount collected at any time is beneficial to the baby. The NICU doesn’t have to be a scary place to breastfeed and/or express milk for your baby, though! Here are some tips to help make the NICU a warm place to provide milk for your baby. 

  1. Consider the location where you may be breastfeeding and pumping.
    • Breastfeeding will vary greatly depending on how old your baby is and your baby’s medical status to determine if direct breastfeeding is possible. Are you able to breastfeed or pump at the bedside next to your baby? Being physically near your baby is best when possible.
  2. Communication will be key.
    • If the NICU does not have individual rooms and you are in a shared space, you may ask for a privacy screen. This way, you can breastfeed or express milk near the baby with some privacy. The medical team will work with you to meet your breastfeeding goals.
  3. Consider all your senses.
    • If expressing milk at the bedside isn’t possible, you may have a pumping room available to share with other moms in the unit. You can dim the lights and listen to soft music, watch a video or look at pictures of the baby, or even smell one of your baby’s blankets. Triggering these senses can help bring you to a place of relaxation and assist with letdown. If Kangaroo care is an option, we highly recommend it, as skin to skin contact is beneficial to you and your baby. Kangaroo care prior to pumping is even better.
  4. Consider the temperature in your room.
    • If your baby requires a longer stay in the NICU and you have to transition to pumping at home, the same recommendations apply. Keeping a place that is warm and comfortable may help. Your partner may also assist with gentle shoulder massage to help you relax. 
  5. Get comfortable as you transition.
    • Once the baby is ready to come home, it is important to remember to continue to relax and get comfortable as you transition to learning how to breastfeed. It is also important to remember that though breastfeeding is natural, it’s a learned behavior. It takes time and patience, especially after a NICU stay. Find the most comfortable spot on your sofa, your favorite chair… think, “what was my favorite place to relax pre-baby?”. Go there! If mom is relaxed, so will the baby and things will go a lot smoother. 
  6. Lastly, don’t do this alone. Ask for help.
    • Both in the hospital and at home. Use any and all available resources. If breastfeeding and or pumping is causing you any pain or discomfort, speak with the medical team in the NICU. Most NICUs will have lactation support staff available to you. Once at home, talk to your pediatrician who can refer you to a community lactation consultant to assist during this transition. Give yourself tons of room for adjustments and take it one step at a time. 

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