Being the parent of a sick or early baby can be a very emotional experience. You may feel like your baby is being cared for by doctors and nurses but remember you are a crucial part of your baby’s life. Being close to your baby and talking to them so they hear your already familiar voice, is reassuring for babies and releases a hormone that is important for brain development.
Providing your breastmilk at this time is an important and unique way you can help your baby. Your breastmilk is specifically made to help your baby grow and develop but also provides antibodies which protect your baby from infection.
The earlier you start to express your milk after delivery and the more frequently you express, the more milk you will produce. Every drop of your milk is precious and even if your baby is not being fed, your milk can be used for mouthcare and to soothe and comfort your baby during procedures. Your midwife and neonatal nurse can help you to start expressing and can provide support and advice about practical issues such as storing milk and obtaining a breastpump.
As soon as your baby is stable you and they will benefit from being held skin to skin (Kangaroo Care). This special, close contact between parents and babies helps babies to relax, again promoting the release of a hormone to help brain development. Babies held in skin to skin have more regular breathing and heart rates, maintain their temperatures and sleep deeply, which helps them to grow. Mums also find holding their baby in this way helps them to produce more milk.
- Start as soon as possible after delivery (within a couple of hours)
- It is normal to produce small amounts/drops initially
- Massaging your breasts prior to expressing helps to release milk producing hormones.
- Aim to express 8-10 times in 24 hours and don’t leave a gap of more than 5 hours
- Ensure you are comfortable – ask the nurse/midwife to show you/ check technique
- Express close to your baby or have a photo/miniboo to encourage the milk producing hormones
- Try to relax- don’t panic if your supply drops. Speak to your nurse and try to have time as close to your baby as possible.
You may express for many days/weeks but when your baby is around 32-34 weeks or well enough you may notice them licking, sucking and rooting. If this occurs during skin to skin your baby can practice feeding from you and may nuzzle at the breast. Ask your nurse to help you to position your baby and support them so they can attach at the breast. This may be a gradual process. Look for your baby’s feeding cues and be guided by them. Your nurse will help you with this transition.