You’ve been through it all - suffered through the worry and fears of the NICU, and now you’re finally home - CONGRATULATIONS!
You’ve made it!
Finally, time to relax, sit back and enjoy worry-free parenting from here on out. Right?
I wish that was the way it went for every family. But as so many of you know, it’s not always so easy.
Of course there is so much joy and relief in bringing your baby home! But if you’re like most NICU parents, home life isn’t all rainbows and unicorns, it’s still a struggle.
I wish getting home meant life just got magically perfect. Shoot, you deserve it after everything you’ve been through!
But if you are working on breastfeeding and you find that you still need help after the NICU, you are not alone. Not by a long shot.
Breastfeeding is often tough for babies and mothers who have been through the trauma of the NICU. Regardless of the reason for admission. Whether your little one was a preemie, or needed surgery, or had an infection or whatever - that stress often translates into difficulty breastfeeding.
And when you’re home - you don’t have a whole crew of NICU staff to ask questions anymore!
So I want to share a few tips that are great to consider if you’re in this situation.
Be patient but stubborn
If you really want breastfeeding to succeed, you may have to be pretty determined. Because it’s not super easy for everyone. If you feel like it’s a frustratingly big challenge, just know that you’re not alone.
It up to you, and only you, to decide - how much do I really want this?
There’s no right or wrong answer here.
If the struggle is too much, that’s a-okay. You’ve already been through SO MUCH. No guilt if the breastfeeding struggle is too much. You can feed formula, or you can exclusively pump, or you can do whatever it takes to keep your baby fed.
If you do decide to go for breastfeeding and your little one isn’t all that great at it when you leave the NICU, don’t be surprised if it’s difficult and takes time. Know that for many, it can take months even. So be patient.
If you are determined to keep working on this, read on dear friend.
Get the Help of a Lactation Consultant
These people are pros, they have the training and expertise to help you. So why wouldn’t you give one a call?
Well, maybe you’re worried about money to pay, or maybe you don’t think they can help you because of your baby’s medical issues … but you at least should give one a call and find out what your options are. Because I swear, many of them are honest-to-goodness baby whisperers and they’ll have some pretty fantastic ways to help.
And you shouldn’t go through this struggle alone.
Don’t know where to find a Breastfeeding Consultant?
Call your NICU back and ask for a recommendation. They definitely should know who is available locally to help you after you’re home.
Or try finding one here: BreastfeedingUSA Breastfeeding Counselor Locator
Find a breastfeeding a support group
Nobody can appreciate the struggle better than other nursing moms. So I can’t recommend it enough - find a support group!
You don’t like the idea of a support group? I feel your pain - I’m a total introvert and tend to avoid big group gatherings with a bunch of strangers.
And I know you’re probably super tired, overwhelmed and maybe just want to stay inside in your pajamas most of the time.
But breastfeeding support groups are incredibly useful. Seriously.
These groups are usually led by someone with a ton of experience with getting difficult feeders breastfeeding, and they have a passion for helping struggling breastfeeding mamas. This is all very good.
But another benefit can come as a surprise: you learn so much by listening to other breastfeeding moms. Because in a group, you’re hearing everyone’s questions and benefiting from all those answers, so you’ll end up learning stuff you didn’t even know you wanted to know.
And you’ll feel so much better seeing and hearing other real moms who need help, so you’ll feel less alone.
Don’t know where to find a breastfeeding support group? As with finding a breastfeeding consultant, you have a couple easy solutions:
Call your NICU back and ask for a recommendation. They should have at least one or two recommendations.
One note - most smaller communities don’t have breastfeeding support groups exclusively for NICU families. So there will be non-NICU parents there. Be prepared for a room full of people you might be jealous of because their experience was unbelievably easier than yours. But you never know - you might just find your new-mama-best-friend there.
Read the bookS
So you’ve talked with a lactation specialist and considered a support group, but you also love reading? We’re peas in the same pod - I’m a total reader too. So I appreciate how much a good resource book can be.
These books are fantastic on your breastfeeding journey:
Have the supplies you need
I hate the thought that breastfeeding would require a bunch of STUFF, but there are some truly awesome products that might help you through this. These might include:
Infant scale - One thing you want to be sure is that your baby is gaining weight, and in the NICU it was easy because babies are weighed all the time. Guess what - you can weigh your baby at home too! So grab a home scale! My favorite is this scale from Hatch because it’s super easy to use, it doubles as a changing pad so it doesn’t take up too much space, and the best part? It has a fantastic app to track weights and feedings. It even tracks twins separately!
Nipple shield - This should really only be used under the guidance of a lactation consultant, because it does require pumping after and it can make it difficult for your baby to actually get enough milk at the breast. But they can seriously work like magic for a baby who has difficulty latching. The only one I’ve ever seen in use is this one from Medela, and it works great.
SNS - A Supplemental Nursing System, like this one from Medela, can be the critical missing link if your baby latches but doesn’t have the strength to get enough milk without some help. You would definitely want to be working with a lactation specialist if you’re going this route.
A really good breastfeeding setup - To be most successful with breastfeeding, you might just need your bed and your usual pillow and you’re set. But many moms find that a good supportive chair and a good breastfeeding pillow are critical. Don’t be shy about trying out different positions and getting all the comfy props you need to make the experience more pleasant.
Pump - You’ve got to have a good one because you’ll be pumping a lot to keep your milk supply up as you keep working away at breastfeeding. I’m not going to review all of them here in this article, but here are the top rated breast pumps on Amazon right now.
Extra awesome pumping accessories :
Pump attachments - if you haven’t heard of the Freemie Pump Cups, check them out. They make it possible to pump while you’re breastfeeding, which can be a lifesaver…here’s a bit about how wonderful they are while still in the NICU.
Pumping Bra - Please, do yourself this favor if you’re pumping - get a hands-free pumping bra! If you don’t have one already, do it now. Your hands and your sanity will thank me.
Milk Tracker Apps - If you don’t have the app that comes with the Hatch scale, you might consider other apps to track your pumping and feedings. I’m not as familiar with all of these, so I’m leaving this review of pumping apps to the pros.
Need help understanding what medications are safe while breastfeeding?
Here are two really helpful resources:
Know when to call for help
Now that you’re home alone, you may think you should be able to do this all alone. It’s not true, not at all. We already talked about getting help from a lactation consultant and support group, but medical concerns can arise too.
Please remember that fed is best.
A baby must be fed one way or another. By now, you and your baby have figured out how to get him or her enough nutrition one way or another or the NICU wouldn’t have sent your baby home.
But if you’re trying to work on successful breastfeeding in the comfort of your own home, always be watchful that your baby continues to get enough to eat. Your baby’s well-being relies on being fed, regardless of how. So just remember that you’re being an awesome mom by feeding, no matter the method. If breastfeeding doesn’t work in spite of your best efforts, please don’t beat yourself up over it. Life’s too short, your baby loves you no matter what, and just getting home from the NICU is such an incredible accomplishment that there is much to celebrate.
(Haven’t heard of the “Fed is Best” campaign? Learn more: fedisbest.org)
I hope this helps!
If you have any thoughts in response to this - any further recommendations, stories to share, or feedback, definitely leave a comment. I’d love to hear from you!
Good luck on successfully feeding your baby!
Please do keep in mind that, although I am a NICU nurse, I don’t know your baby and your history, so this article does not replace personalized medical advice for you and your baby. Please work with your doctors, specialists, consultants, and refer to the terms and conditions of this site. Thanks!