Editor's Note: This post was written by guest blogger, and Emerald Doulas IBCLC, Victoria Facelli.
Dear NICU parents,
It can be so hard it is to have all your plans tossed out the window by a premature birth. For many parents, those plans include how your baby was going to be fed.
Parents of premature babies sometimes face a lot of extra feeding challenges.
Challenges such as: making complex medical choices that will impact how your baby lives, pumping milk as a way to stimulate milk production, or even sometimes, to prevent intestinal infections, choosing how to feed your baby to get them big enough to take home… this is just the beginning.
Feeding premies is not like feeding term babies. It comes with its own set of struggles and joys. Each milestone that a preterm baby hits is its own triumph. Each triumph is a victory which you and your baby worked very hard for. I have had the great privilege of watching some of you meet these those goals during in my clinical time in the NICU, and working outpatient in our office with pre-term babies who are now at home with their parents.
I can’t speak to every experience, but here are my words of love and wisdom to support you through a few of the hardest aspects of having and feeding a preemie.
If you are pumping, stay with it.
It’s so worth it, I promise. Even if your baby is not eating by mouth yet, pumping helps make sure that your milk is available when you baby is developmentally or physically ready. I know that pumping every 3 hours around the clock is grueling. Combining that schedule with trying to get back and forth to the hospital, let alone look after the other aspects of your life and it is nearly impossible. Hang in there. Do your best.
If you miss a pumping session to spend time with your baby, get a meal or take a shower, be kind to yourself. Stick with the pumping, but give yourself space to be a parent, too.
You are a person not a milk machine.
If you are working on bringing your baby to breast, be patient.
Go slow. Remember that time at the breast is skin-to-skin, so even if your baby isn’t transferring much milk, they are getting closeness with you, and skin-to-skin with you in those moments. As your baby grows, so will their ability to eat. Try to focus on their growth and your bonding time with them. There will be plenty of time to work on at breastfeeding, both in the NICU and beyond.
Remember that at-the-breast feedings often don't "click" until after your little one is home and gaining weight well. We're here for you when that day comes, ready to offer support and gentle guidance when you're both ready for it.
If you are grieving a loss, reach out.
Whether you've lost one of your multiples or are dealing with the loss of your single, precious baby. I am so sorry. This is a pain unlike any other. Know that your loved ones care deeply about your little one.
We are here to say your baby’s name. We can help you grieve in whatever way works for you. Maybe it feels right to you to dry off your milk production. Maybe it feels right to pump and donate for other NICU babies.
Your choice is all yours and please reach out to a professional who can respectfully help you sort through the options and reach your goals, as part of your grieving process.
Wherever you are in your feeding journey, reconciling your best-laid plans with your current reality can be emotionally and physically taxing. Please know that you are doing a great job. You are everything your baby needs, in whatever form you can be available to them in.
If you need extra support, now or when you come home, our team of expert, preemie-competent postpartum doulas can help your entire family's transition out of NICU-living be a little easier. We're here if you need us.