Breastfeeding Your Hospitalized Baby

Texas Children's encourages mothers to breastfeed their hospitalized infants

Why should I breastfeed my hospitalized baby?

The benefits of breastfeeding are numerous, but it may be even more important if a baby is premature or needs special care.

  • The nutrients in human milk are easier on babies’ digestive systems.
  • The milk that comes from each baby’s own mother offers specific protection from infection and helps the baby build immunity.
  • Premature babies fed mother’s own milk have fewer cases of sepsis, an infection in the blood stream, and of necrotizing enterocolitis, an inflammatory disease of the intestines. As a result they tend to be discharged from the hospital sooner.
  • Breastfeeding your baby is a special gift only you can give. Often, being able to take a part in your baby’s care helps you feel less helpless when your baby is hospitalized.
  • How will I get my milk to come in and maintain my milk supply?

Because you have delivered your baby, special milk-making hormones are working to produce milk in your breasts. Since your baby cannot remove the milk from the breast at this time, you will have to express or pump your breasts to stimulate your milk production.

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What is skin-to-skin contact? Why is it important?

Skin-to-skin contact, also called kangaroo care, refers to a special way to hold your baby. You hold your baby upright against your bare chest, nestled between your breasts. Your baby is dressed in a diaper.

Your baby is comforted by your warmth, smell and familiar heartbeat. Studies have even shown that holding your baby skin-to-skin keeps them warmer and better regulates their breathing and heart rate compared to holding the baby in blankets.

When a mother has skin-to-skin contact with her baby, it causes her body to release the hormone oxytocin. This hormone creates a feeling of nurturing calm and helps stimulate milk production.

Skin-to-skin contact helps you and your baby bond. Fathers who hold their babies this way often feel more connected too.

I feel helpless when I see my baby hooked up to monitors and equipment. What can I do?

Whenever possible, touch your baby and talk to him. Feed and change him.

My baby is not strong enough to breastfeed on his own. Can he still be fed my breast milk?

If your baby is not yet strong enough to try to breastfeed:

  • Begin to pump as soon after the birth as you are able.
  • Pump every two to three hours, about the same interval as your baby would nurse.
  • Use a full-size, hospital-grade pump, with a double-pump kit.
  • Save your colostrum, the first milk, for your baby's first feeding.

If your baby can come out of the isolette, but is not strong enough to nurse:

  • Hold him skin-to-skin.
  • Pump breast milk to be fed to your baby by other methods.

If your baby is strong enough to breastfeed:

  • Remember it takes time and patience.
  • Try the cross cradle hold for a better view of your baby and to control his head.
  • Pump between feedings to avoid engorgement and maintain your milk supply.