Babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) face many different challenges depending on their individual situation, but they often share one...feeding. This may be due to not having fully developed their skills yet, or their condition or medical equipment makes it more difficult.
If you have twins in the NICU, don’t get discouraged. It may take them a little longer, or sometimes further assistance. But with the help of NICU staff & lactation consultants, many babies can breastfeed successfully in the NICU.
How you can help encourage your babies to breastfeed while in the NICU:
Photo credit: IG @silkysmoooth
Skin to Skin Contact
This is such an important step while your littles are in the NICU. It helps to maintain their body temperature, reduces their stress, regulates their breathing, strengthens your bond, and by all these things, it naturally helps encourage breastfeeding. It helps initiate feeding cues, like finding your breast. Seek out assistance from one of your NICU Nurses or the LC for some extra one-on-one support during this process to help you learn to support those feeding cues.
Familiarize With The Breast
When you find your baby looking for your breast or showing other signs of feeding, you may be ready to try and introduce it. Expressing breastmilk a tiny bit so it’s on your nipple will help them know where to go. They may not know how, and just want to nuzzle. If they latch, it may only be for a little bit. But all these things will help them learn where the milk is.
The NICU is a wonderful resource of people who can help your babies. Breastfeeding support comes not only from lactation consultants and nurses, but the hospital speech & occupational therapists are also a wonderful source of information. Preemies may not have the simple skills yet required to be successful at feeding- sucking, swallowing, & breathing. OT & Speech therapists may help by finding you the right technique to help your babies be successful & encourage breastfeeding.
Follow Their Cues
If you have a little who’s doing well with feedings, ask your nurse or lc how to help you transition into breastfeeding. NICU babies can get tired easily while feeding. Watch their sucking pattern while feeding to know if they’re getting enough. If they are fast, it probably isn’t giving your baby the nutrition they need. If it’s slower, consistent, and stronger, they are adapting to your flowing milk. When they are full they will stop & be very sleepy or tired. It can be a slow process, but any breastmilk they can get while there will only help them grow stronger.
Medical Equipment & Breastfeeding
Some of the equipment that helps babies’ recovery, can also make it difficult for breastfeeding. If your babies need to be fed via NG tube or g-tube, let them learn to get used to you at feeding times by holding them & giving them a pacifier during it to help get them used to the experience and the pacifier will help build their sucking skills. When babies are on ventilators or other respiratory devices, it may not be safe for them to try to breastfeed. You can still introduce breastmilk by putting it on a swab to get them used to the taste. Once your baby is only using cannula in their nose, you may be able to introduce breastfeeding. Even if your littles are being safely fed by alternative methods, you can still pump your breastmilk & the staff will add it to their feeding tubes.
How you can support your breastfeeding journey after coming home from the NICU:
You are a new mama, not to just one, but two. You are probably surviving on caffeine and baby snuggles, with minimal sleep. This being said, your number one goal for breastfeeding will be to help keep up your supply.
How to keep your supply maintained:
Feed yourself: Make sure you’re eating a balanced diet! Lots of fruits, veggies, protein, & whole grain choices. While breastfeeding be sure to add in 500 calories, your body is doing extra work!
Keep Pumping!: By pumping in between feeding sessions, you are stimulating milk production. It can stay fresh in the refrigerator for 24 hours, or if you’re not using that much yet, pop it in the freezer to save for when you need it.
Drink up!: Don’t go overboard with caffeine (eek!) and try to drink enough nonalcoholic fluids. You should try to have water whenever you feed, during pumping sessions, or whenever you eat Sleep!: This is a hard concept for a new mom (especially a twin mom!) but it’s so important to try and get enough sleep. “Nap when baby naps” may not hold true for twin mamas, so be sure to accept any and all offers from your partner, or any other friends or family members that offer to help.
Handling Breastfeeding & Medical Devices at Home
Your babies may still come home from the NICU with an NG tube or g-tube. You can attempt to breastfeed whenever they are hungry, or you can give them extra breast milk through their tube.
There are some occasions where it may not be safe for a baby to breastfeed if they cannot swallow well. If this is the case for your baby, do not offer breastmilk outside of their feeding tubes until your doctor says it is safe to try other methods. You can still hold them during feeding and offer a pacifier. This will help strengthen your bond and help them adapt to feeding.
About the Author:
Krystal Workman is the inventor of the TwinGo Carrier, the first ergonomic twin baby carrier and the TwinGo Nurse & Lounge Pillow, a feeding pillow designed to support both twins and mamas. Her inventions were born out of personal necessity to care for her own twins, and as a way to emotionally heal from the touchless first few days in the NICU. Today, TwinGo has helped more than 10,000 families around the world keep their babies close.