This post was written for inclusion in the WBW 2013 Blog Carnival. Our participants will be writing and sharing their stories about community support and normalizing breastfeeding all week long. Find more participating sites in the list at the bottom of this post or at the main carnival page.
We all hear it. We all know it. “Breast is best.” Being able to breastfeed babies is something to strive for and many new mothers are bound and determined to be successful breastfeeding mommies. But it’s not always that easy.
What happens when you have more than one baby at a time, each demanding to be fed as newborn babies do? How do you balance the needs of twins, ensuring they are being well-nourished? How do you handle your own needs as a mom, such as getting enough sleep, managing your own diet when you are trying to balance the needs of multiple babies? How do you learn to nurse your babies if they are born premature and are living in a NICU? Each situation is challenging, but each of these needs can be achieved. I am telling you, because I have done it for three premature babies, including twins while in a NICU. I’m not going to lie. It’s not easy. You might shed a few tears. You might want to give up. People might try to talk you out of it. But I’m telling you now, it can be done!
While in the NICU for over three months with twins, I learned to nurse each of my babies when they were ready. Unfortunately we found ourselves in contact isolation for about 9 weeks of this time, all the while trying to learn to breastfeed and nourish my babies enough to be able to go home when they were ready and continue on with breastfeeding for as long as possible. Wearing gloves and gown while in isolation, I learned to work through the awkwardness of breastfeeding while in my isolation “get-up,” along with dealing with numerous wires and sticky things about my babies’ bodies. It truly was awkward, yet I wasn’t going to give up because of a rash of a bit of bad luck. The one thing that was natural and I could do for my babies, I was going to do.
Here are my 5 tips for you to try with the hopes that you will be successful while breastfeeding in a NICU and beyond.
Why Do You Want to Breastfeed?
First things first, ask yourself why you want to breastfeed. Is it for your own personal satisfaction and goal of providing for your children? Is it because you feel it is best for your children? Or is it because someone else told you that you should? If it is because you either want to gain something out of it such as the feeling of satisfaction of knowing you are providing nourishment for your babies or because you feel in your heart it is what needs to be done and you’re going to do it, then you’re on the right track. To be successful at breastfeeding babies, who are living in a NICU, when you are already under an enormous amount of strain and potential mental, physical and emotional stress, you have to be sure breastfeeding is important to you and you’re not doing it because someone else said so. If you are not mentally prepared to breastfeed, you’re headed for a rocky road.
Communicate Your Breastfeeding Goals to Others
Make sure you tell your babies’ NICU nurses, lactation consultant, and medical team your goal to breastfeed your babies when they are ready. Remember, because your babies have arrived early, they may not be able to start nursing immediately due to their size or health situation. Give it time and be patient. Begin using a breast pump as soon as possible and on a regular schedule, which you will expect to follow when the babies are ready to begin breastfeeding. Most hospitals will have you begin to get accustomed to an every three hour pumping and eventually breastfeeding schedule. Now is a great time to allow your body to what it was designed to do, which is produce milk for your newborn babies. If you find you are experiencing challenges with producing, consider being in a NICU a blessing in disguise. If you are struggling in the early days, you will have a bit of time to investigate and figure out how to have your milk come in. By being in the NICU you have access to the nursing team, as well as lactation consultants, which you wouldn’t have if you went directly home after the birth of your babies.
Use the NICU Resources
No one wants to be in the NICU. I know that. The way I looked at it though, is that it was a chance situation that put me in the NICU, surrounded by medical experts and a team of lactation consultants, occupational therapists and dieticians, so I was going to make full use of the medical team there to support me and my babies. Each of these experts has a different way of looking at the breastfeeding process. Your lactation consultant can discuss tips and tricks for positioning yourself and your babies for optimal comfort and breastfeeding success. An occupational therapist can also be brought into the picture to assess how babies are handling the “suck, swallow, breathe” process and make any necessary adjustments needed for your breastfeeding technique. The dietician may discuss your dietary needs, what’s best to eat while breastfeeding, as well as possibly discuss your infants’ dietary needs and possibility of higher caloric intake, which may depend on weight and rate of growth. These people are a quick phone call away and they will come to help you when you ask. Where else can you get a team of experts like this practically at your fingertips?
Find Your Comfort Zone
Each mother is different and thankfully there are different ways to breastfeed your babies. Figure out what works best for you by trying things out. Once again, since you are in the NICU, now is the best time to hammer out the best approach for feeding your babies. Having premature babies often means they are very small in size. It can be very uncomfortable in the early days when it comes to figuring out how to handle their little bodies and having the confidence that you are not actually hurting them as you move them around getting settled to breastfeed. It will take some time to get comfortable with these things. Ask the lactation consultant if they have a variety of nursing pillows for you to try. One mom of multiples might swear by nursing pillows made specifically for twins, while another mother might prefer a different style which fits her small premature babies on it. Some moms are quite content layering a few pillows across their lap and adjusting based on the babies’ needs for positioning. You may find your babies also have a preference for a certain breastfeeding hold over another. Once again, your time in the NICU allows you the unique opportunity for “practice,” as well as bedside coaching from the nurses and other staff involved in your babies’ care.
Before Discharge from NICU
The day you get to take your babies home will eventually arrive. Make sure you plan how you will transition yourselves from the NICU with constant access to experts to your own household, which will not have a 24 hour staff on call. How will you and your partner handle your breastfeeding schedule once you have brought your babies home? Will your partner be able to support your goal of breastfeeding by helping you keep on top of your feeding schedule and by helping you get up in the wee hours of the night to feed them? These are all important points to consider and prepare for before being discharged from the hospital. To help make a smooth transition from NICU to home, consider contacting your local multiples organization to see if they have a breastfeeding support person, or your local public health office and even your children’s pediatrician’s office. All of these organizations will know how to put you in touch with a lactation consultant or formal breastfeeding supports. Knowing that you can build your own “team” outside the hospital will hopefully help you keep on track with breastfeeding your babies until you are ready to wean them, whenever that day may be.
Landing in a NICU with your premature babies is not ideal, but take it is a chance to accept help you would not have received otherwise. Consider this your opportunity to get breastfeeding right. You are in a place with some amazing experts that you never would have had access to if you’d had your babies and went directly home. The NICU is likely a whole new world to you, so take the time to explore it and the unexpected opportunities it has available to you. I am confident I was able to successfully breastfeed my three children for 13 months and 9 months based on the fact I had supportive experts rooting for me and showing me the way from day one.
Carolyn (Twintrospectives) writes for How Do You Do It? and has three boys born premature, including fraternal twins. She is the proud mom of NICU Grads 2008 and 2010! Carolyn and her family live in Canada.
Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants. Below are a list of links for today’s participants; you can find a complete list of links (updated throughout the week) at our main carnival page:
(This list will be updated by afternoon August 3 with all the carnival links.)
- Breastfeeding and NIP: A Primer — Rachel Rainbolt of Sage Parenting, featured today at NursingFreedom.org, uses her informative and candid voice to share with you everything you need to know to breastfeed successfully in public, from the practical how-to’s to handling the social stigma.
- Lactivist Ryan Gosling — Breastfeeding mamas, the time is long overdue for a Lactivist Ryan Gosling. Fortunately, Dionna of Code Name: Mama has created some for your viewing pleasure.
- In Defense of Formula — Amy of Mom2Mom KMC, guest blogging for Breastfeeding in Combat Boots, asserts that formula is a medical tool rather than a food. She examines how this perspective supports breastfeeding as normal and eliminates the negative tensions between breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding mothers.
- World Breastfeeding Week 2013 Blog Carnival – Breastfeeding Tips & Tricks — Throughout her breastfeeding journey (since March 2009), Jenny at I’m a full-time mummy has shared countless tips and tricks on the topic of breastfeeding.
- Nursing in the Wild — Meredith at Thank You Ma’am posts about how seeing other moms nurse can make all of us more comfortable with nursing in public.
- Normalizing Breastfeeding — Sara Stepford of The Stepford Sisters confronts the social stigma vs. the reality of breastfeeding and opens up about the steps she takes to make herself and others more comfortable with the process.
- Breastfeeding Alrik at two years old — This is where Lauren at Hobo Mama and her second-born are at in their nursing relationship, two years in.
- Perfectly Normal — Stephanie from Urban Hippie writes about the way she and her family have done their part to try and normalize breastfeeding in a society that doesn’t get to see breastfeeding as often as they should.
- Diagnosis: Excess Lipase — Learn about excess lipase and how to test if your expressed milk has it. That Mama Gretchen shares her own experience.
- Redefining Normal — Diana at Munchkin’s Mommy reflects on how we can normalize breastfeeding in our society.
- Nursing Openly and Honestly — Amy W. at Me, Mothering, and Making it All Work feels that the most socially responsible thing she can do as a mother is to nurse and nurture her children openly, honestly, and with pride.
- Wet-nursing, Cross-nursing and Milk-sharing: Outdated? — Jamie Grumet of I Am Not the Babysitter shares a response to the Wendy Williams quote about milk sharing being akin to slavery, by giving a brief history of the wet nurse.
- Tackling Mastitis with an Older Nursling — Much of the advice available for supporting recovery from mastitis seems to be aimed at mamas with younger nurslings. Juliet of Twisting Vines, posting at Natural Parents Network shares tips for dealing with mastitis while breastfeeding a toddler.
- Milk in the eye — Gena from Nutrition Basics discusses how breastmilk cured her 3 year old’s case of pink eye.
- Boobie Biter — Rachel Rainbolt at Sage Parenting offers guidance on how to survive and thrive a boobie biter with your breastfeeding relationship intact.
- My take on breastfeeding advice — Diana at Munchkin’s Mommy shares her insights on nursing for both new moms and new dads.
- My Top Five Breastfeeding Tips for Delivery Day: Think “A-B-C-D-E” — Mothernova shares how her continued success at breastfeeding with her second child rests on a foundation of five key things she did to prepare for baby’s arrival, along with things she did when she and baby first met. Easily enough, these tips can be categorized as “A-B-C-D-E”: Access to lactation consultant, Baby-friendly hospital, Communicate your plan to breastfeed exclusively, Demand, and Expect to room in.
- Breastfeeding Buddies: Twin Brothers Nurse while Living in the NICU — Twintrospectives at How Do You Do It? shares her 5 tips for learning to breastfeed multiples while in the NICU.
- Breastfeeding on a Dairy-Free Diet: Our Journey and Our Tips — Finding herself nursing a baby with food allergies, Jenny at Spinning Jenny embarked upon a dairy-free journey with her son for eight months. Here she relates her reasons for making the decision to give up dairy in her diet, why it was worth it, and tips for moms on the same path.
- Normalizing Breastfeeding in my Home — Shannah at The Touch of Life shares how she plans to help keep breastfeeding normal for her own children, even when her breastfeeding years are over.
- A Year With My Nursling — The more you see and hear, the more normal it becomes, so That Mama Gretchen is sharing her heart on the last year of breastfeeding – the ups and downs, but mostly the joy of her priceless relationship with her son.
- From Covered to Confident — Krystyna at Sweet Pea Births shares her personal NIP evolution: she started by covering up from neck to ankle while nursing in public. Eight years later, she has gained confidence and the ability to nurse without stressing about flashing a little skin. She shares her views on normalizing breastfeeding – what influenced her and how she hopes to help others.
- Normalizing Breastfeeding for Older Kids — Sadia at How Do You Do It? hopes that openly discussing breastfeeding with her (now weaned) daughters will help her children feel comfortable with breastfeeding and their bodies in general as they grow.
- Nursing in Public — Listen up, mammas. Those other people around . . . they don’t matter. It’s not about them. It’s about you and that beautiful baby. Nurse on, says The Swaddled Sprout!
- How to Nurse a Teenager — Sarah at The Touch of Life declares: the purpose is to help normalize breastfeeding a toddler.