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12 Ways To Support A Woman Who Is Breastfeeding In The NICU

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For many of us, breastfeeding can be a bit of a challenge. Milk production can be an issue, especially if you have insufficient glandular tissue. Your baby may have trouble latching on properly or the act of breastfeeding might be particularly painful for you. Maybe you're a survivor of sexual assault who has chosen to breastfeed, but you're struggling with past memories and triggers. Honestly, for as beautiful as breastfeeding is, it can be so difficult and exhausting and debilitating. It’s (arguably) even more challenging when your baby is born prematurely or sick and winds up spending time in the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU. Babies in the NICU are frequently intubated, meaning they’ll be hooked up to machines that breathe for them and feed them and sustain them. And honestly, there’s nothing harder than seeing your baby inside an isolette and feeling completely powerless to help them.

As any good NICU nurse will tell you, (thankfully) there is plenty for you to do while you wait for baby to get stronger and healthier and less dependent on machines. One way is by pumping breastmilk for your baby while you wait for your breastfeeding opportunity to arrive. I remember, all too well, when my son was in NICU; his nurse would constantly reassure me that “every drop counts.” Even while I was desperate to produce more milk and barely coming up with a few milliliters, my son's nurse would still take my breast milk and mix it with his formula so that he would, at the very least, get some of the vitamins and other nutrients that are only found in breast milk. Not all moms have this kind of trouble, but even if you’re producing a lot, you can still use a hand if you’re a NICU mom that’s breastfeeding (especially because, chances are, you’re having to pump at least part of the time).

Pregnant mamas and new mamas should print this one out and hand it to their loved ones. Friends and family members of NICU moms should use these 12 ways to help out these struggling, powerful and steadfast mothers, because when my son was in the NICU and I was trying to properly breastfeed him, I was thankful for every second of support I received.

Wash Her Pumping Supplies

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I developed a love/hate relationship with my pumping supplies. For a time, I viewed them as my gear, and I took some pride in washing them carefully while my son slept. Other times, I wanted to cry at the thought of having to wash them yet again. Be a dear and let a tired mom get some shut eye while you carefully wash these important supplies for her.

Bring Her Fresh, Breastfeeding-Friendly Clothes

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Some moms go home daily while their baby is in NICU. Others, like myself, spend several days sleeping on uncomfortable hospital furniture to be next to our babies while they recover. That means little or no time doing laundry or picking out clothes or taking what would be a soothing shower. Good friends know to bring some fresh clothes and nursing bras for the NICU mom in their life.

Make Sure She Remembers To Eat...

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NICU moms are notorious for forgetting to care for themselves. Honestly, it's an understandable oversight; you're so focused on your baby that you forget to focus on yourself. But as any breastfeeding mom knows, you need to remember to eat. Breastfeeding burns tons of calories which will leave any mother feeling drained. This is just one of many things breastfeeding moms moms need to remember to do, whether or not they’re in the NICU.

...Or Drop Off Some Bottled Waters And Healthy Snacks

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You can always drop off some snacks in case she’s not interested in hitting up the hospital cafeteria. Granola bars, lactation cookies, cheese and crackers, and yogurt are (in my humble opinion) all fantastic options.

Take Her For A Breather Outside Of The NICU

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Sometimes NICU life gets stressful. Actually, forget that: it’s always stressful. So honestly, even if the NICU mom  is adamant that she doesn't need or want a break, she can always use at least an hour or two outside the hospital to unwind and find neutral. Kill two birds with one stone and take her out for lunch, or maybe a walk in the park or a quick drive. Anything to get her mind off her stresses, if only for a moment.

Stay On Baby Watch For Her

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If mama feels like going out on her own for a bit, you could also volunteer to stay by baby’s bedside so she feels more comfortable (if she is the sort that doesn’t want to leave their infant alone).

Bring Her Some Entertainment

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Not much happens in the NICU on a good day (save for baby eating and sleeping). Drop off some books, magazines, or coloring books for the new mom to entertain herself with. Alternately, you can offer to let her use your video streaming passwords so she can catch up on her favorite TV shows.

Label Her Milk And Hand It Over To The Nurse

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When you’re pumping in the NICU, you’ll have to close it up in special plastic containers and add a label with your baby’s name on it so the nurse can store it in the fridge or freezer for you. It gets old fast, so do this for the mom while she disconnects from her pump.

Remind Her That It’s Okay To Sleep

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Don’t let a NICU mom stay up all the time because (trust me) she will not last. Gently remind her it’s okay to go home for a few hours and sleep. Sometimes we need to hear it from someone. Sometimes, getting "permission" to take care of ourselves, is all we need to not let the overwhelming mom-guilt take its toll.

If She’s Having Trouble, Seek Out A Lactation Specialist For Her

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Sometimes a NICU mom won’t have it in her to ask for help. Be her advocate and see if you can get someone to assist her if she’s struggling.

And If She Requests Them, Get Her Some Galactagogues

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Things like fenugreek and goat’s rue are supposed to help with milk production, though it’s not 100% proven. Still, if it’s not something that will harm her or baby and she wants to try it, place the orders and send them over to her.

Have Her Back If And/Or When She Decides She’s Done With Breastfeeding

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Don’t be a judgmental jerk when or if she wants to stop breastfeeding. We all stop at different points for various, valid reasons. Basically, whatever’s right for her and her family is something you should support. Don’t add to a mama’s stress by making her feel badly about stopping earlier than you feel she should.

And Of Course, Let Her Know She’s Doing A Great Job

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Because every parent needs to hear this, again and again and again.