Regardless of how you ultimately choose to feed your baby, if your baby is born early you will probably be encouraged to start pumping breast milk right away. Preemies need more calories and nutrients to help them grow quickly. In addition to providing nourishment, breast milk can also help reduce the risk of NEC, build immunity, and prevent infection. Few preemies are able to feed from the breast or a bottle right away. Therefore, expressing your breast milk and providing it to the NICU in both it’s fresh and frozen form is an important part of your child’s medical care. But, it is not easy. Pumping is a labor of love and requires a great deal of commitment and time. I am not a medical expert, but I did pump exclusively for my preemie twins for 15 months. Here are a few of my tips and favorite products to help make things easier.
Start pumping as soon as possible after your baby’s birth
When I arrived in my hospital room post c-section, there was a breast pump and a lactation consultant waiting for me. I started pumping right away. It took several days for my milk to come in, but pumping early and often was vital for establishing supply. Every single drop was taken to my babies in the NICU.
Establish and maintain a pumping schedule
In the beginning, you will need to pump at least every 2-3 hours around the clock. It is hard to set an alarm and wake up in the middle of the night to pump, but a schedule that mimics the newborn feeding pattern will help to maintain and grow your supply with your preemie. As your baby grows and needs to eat less frequently, your pumping frequency will change as well.
A lactation consultant and your baby’s medical care team are great resources. They can provide you with any specific guidelines you need to follow when expressing and storing your breast milk. Also, make sure to discuss with them how you intend to feed your baby post hospital, so they can prepare and support you in that decision. Lactation consultants are not only available during a hospital stay, you can contact them at any time. They can also help you to identify the signs and symptoms of plugged milk ducts and mastitis, both of which are quite painful and can hurt your supply.
Accept the difficulty
I have said it before, but it bears repeating. Pumping is hard! It can certainly feel like all you have time to do in a day is eat and pump. And there may be times during this journey when that is true! But if pumping for your baby is what you want or need to do, it can be rewarding and successful.
Hands-free Pumping Bra– If you are going to be spending any amount of time pumping breast milk for your preemie, a hands-free pumping bra is a must. Every Momma can benefit from multitasking while pumping.
Hospital Grade Pump– A powerful breast pump and a lactation consultant will set you on the road to success. And remember, you don’t need to buy a hospital grade pump. You can rent a pump for a monthly fee, which may be covered by health insurance.
Car Adapter– At some point, you will want to leave the house. Being able to pump on the go can provide you with some much-deserved freedom.
Insulated Bag– An insulated cooler bag is necessary for transporting pumped and frozen milk to and from the hospital.
Breastmilk Storage Bags– Most hospitals will provide specific storage containers for breast milk while your baby is admitted. But once home, you will need something to keep milk in until you are ready to use it. Some women prefer a storage bag because they take up less space and are less expensive than storing in a bottle. Remember to label for future reference.
Convenient Pump Cleaning– Keeping your pump parts clean is important especially when you are pumping for a preemie. If you are making trips back and forth to the NICU, you might not always have access to soap and water. Cleaning wipes formulated especially to clean pump parts are great in a pinch. Sterilization bags that go right in the microwave are quick and easy to use.