Feeding and caring for your baby
We actively promote breastfeeding and we value it, like “medicine” for preterm or ill babies. We know that every drop of breast milk you can give your baby has value, even if you are not able to exclusively breastfeed. We want you and your baby to enjoy a responsive, positive and rewarding feeding experience whether you breastfeed or not. We take pride as a unit, in supporting all mothers; however they choose to feed their babies
We know that close and loving relationships are incredibly important for all babies and parents. We will support you to understand your baby’s behavioural cues and to touch, comfort hold and talk to your baby as soon as possible after birth. We value skin to skin contact (kangaroo care) very highly as it is beneficial in many ways, not just for your baby’s development and for bonding, but also for enhancing breast milk production. All parents are encouraged to hold their babies next to their skin as soon as it is possible and to continue doing this throughout your stay, for extended periods of time.
We will discuss with you why your breast milk is so important. If you choose to breastfeed, there are some important tips to help you establish your milk supply and get off to a good start with feeding. This includes early, effective and frequent expressing if your baby cannot yet breastfeed, to prime your milk supply. We will demonstrate how to hand express and how to use a breast pump. By placing and swapping a small piece of material close to your baby and another in your bra you both get to know each other’s smell, this improves the success of expressing, feeding and bonding between you and your baby.
Sterilising equipment and electronic breast pumps are available to use on the unit. While in the unit and again before you go home, staff will observe you when you express and ensure it is effective and the breast shield fits. We encourage you to express frequently (8-10 times in 24hours), as this is important for a good milk supply. When your baby is able to feed they will observe your baby breastfeeding and perform a feeding assessment to ensure you feel happy and confident with breastfeeding.
If you have made an informed decision to formula feed or bottle feed your breast milk, please bring in your own feeding bottles, teats and bottle brush as soon as possible. It is important that your baby is feeding competently with them before going home. The nursing staff can support you with this as many babies have a preference for different teats. If you are formula feeding, you will also be taught about how to make up formula feeds correctly and sterilise equipment, as well as tips on enjoying responsive bottle feeding. All nursing staff on the unit are trained to UNICEF standards to support mothers with all aspects of expressing and breastfeeding, including storage of milk. The receptionist will print labels on request.
We have access to donor human milk when required if mothers cannot produce their own. We have facilities on the unit for storing and freezing your breast milk during your stay on NICU. Due to storage limitations we ask that you collect any milk stored in the freezer within a week following discharge home.
Why is breast milk important?
Expressing breast milk is a really positive way to help your baby to get the best possible start in life. Neonatal staff and midwives will be happy to support you do this.
Breast milk has a number of important extras that are not found in formula milk. These boost your baby’s immune system, aids digestion and helps to protect against infection. Even if you have not planned to breastfeed your baby at home, we would encourage you to express breast milk while your baby is on the neonatal unit, as it is shown to be extremely important for sick and premature babies
Starting to express
Expressing is best begun as soon as possible after the birth of your baby, to get your milk production started (ideally within the first 2 hours). Nurses and midwives can support you to hand express your colostrum, and show you how to use breast pumps.
Both expressing and breastfeeding work on a system of supply and demand. The more you express or breastfeed, the more you will produce
Expressing by your baby’s cot side or whilst your baby is in skin contact with you is encouraged as it will boost your milk supply and calming hormones. Screens are available for privacy should you wish. There is a feeding room with comfortable chairs for you to use.
It is really important to express at least 8-10 times (every 2 to 3 hours) in 24 hours, including at night, in order to establish your milk supply
How to encourage milk production
Try to be as relaxed and comfortable as possible when expressing. Photos or videos of your baby, or a blanket with their scent on can help (ask our staff about bonding squares). Skin to skin contact (also called kangaroo care) and time at the breast, will help to boost your milk supply, and the neonatal team can help you with this when your baby is well enough.
Start with a few minutes of massaging the breasts and nipples. At first, hand expression is a good, simple way to start expressing small amounts for your baby. Many parents move on to using our hospital’s electric pump once their supply starts to increase. Double pumping (expressing from both breasts at the same time) can make it quicker and provide important double stimulation which helps supply. Some people find that heat on the breast (i.e. a warm flannel, or a shower) before expressing can help.
Early, effective and frequent expression is important in order to build and maintain milk supply while you are separated from your baby.
How much milk to expect
Don’t be worried if you only get small amounts of milk in the first day or two. Every little bit helps your baby, and your body will continue to make more milk if you keep expressing frequently. Frequency of expressing in the first week or two helps to determine your future supply, so it’s important to express at least 2-3 hourly during this time (including at night) and avoid long gaps.