November is dedicated to all the parents and little warriors that find themselves in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). No mommy ever thinks that something might go wrong and that her baby will be born too early and need to be in a NICU. NICU’s are not really spoken about and can be scary if you suddenly find your baby in one. For myself this is a very special month because both of my children were born too early and it would have been amazing to have had this type of information and support 11 years ago. For myself the first time realizing that my baby was going to be born at 33 weeks, I was scared and did not know what to expect. I did not even know what I needed to ask for help with. The day after my baby was born, a friend of mine arrived at ICU and gave me a breast pump. For this I will always be grateful because she helped me start my journey of breastfeeding, even though it was not what I had planned but it ended up being so very special. Every drop that I pumped for my babies, was a love letter sent to them.
So what does a mom need to know if her baby is in NICU.
- Your baby is in the care of professionals who want you baby to grow and get stronger so that your baby can go home, but you are still your baby’s mom. You are an important part of the NICU team and we consider you as your baby’s life support. Ask questions, be available, get to know your NICU team and try to practice skin to skin as soon as possible. Find out more about why Skin to Skin is so important .
- Protect your milk supply. Mothers own breast milk is lifesaving. Colostrum and mature milk are known for their antibody, stem cells, easy absorption, correctly balanced nutrition (for a premature infant) and it is protective against Necrotising enterocolitis (NEC). A mom needs to start expressing as soon as possible after birth as she can. Ideally to start within 1 hour if possible and then to express for 10 -12 times in 24 hours. This will help you to get your milk supply up and way ahead for your baby’s current needs but get you ready for when your baby comes home. You should be aiming for 750ml by day 14. In order to be able to express this amount you will need a high-quality hospital grade breast pump like the Ameda Mya Joy. Find a South African Certified Lactation Consultant to help you with your breast feeding and expressing.
- Make use of donated breastmilk if you need it. Throughout South Africa we have a variety of breast milk banks that collect and send out breast milk for premature infants. If your baby needs breast milk in the first week, ask your NICU team for more information about breast milk banks. This will give you time to recover from birth and build up your own milk supply. If you have lots of breast milk and you would like to share with other mothers in NICU then please contact the South African Breast Milk Reserve and they will let you know the process. Donating your breast milk can really make the difference for a premature infants life.
- Syringes can be very useful to collect your first few drops of breast milk. They are sterile so you can use them straight away to suck up the colostrum drops and send to the NICU. Remember to label them
- Have a pumping bag ready to take to the NICU. This will allow you to spend more time and be able to pump while you are with you baby. In your pumping bag you will need:
- Breast pump
- Microwave sterilizing bag. It is always better to have your own way to sterilize your breast pump parts. This helps you to be in control of your sterilizing and not needing to share equipment with other moms, thus reducing the risk of cross-contamination.
- Breast milk storage bags .These are so useful. Make sure that you label the bags with your baby’s name, date of expressing and amount. This way you make sure that you baby will get your breast milk and that the oldest milk is used first.
- Breast pads can be very useful to help prevent any unwanted leaking. You can try the disposable breast pads or the washable breast pads depending on your preference.
- Have some snacks and drinks available. These are so useful if you have been in the NICU all day. You don’t need to leave and it can help keep you hydrated for all the pumping.
- To help you with bonding, you can use a NICU bonding heart. These are the most amazing little hearts that helps your baby to smell you even while you are away.
- The octopal is the cutest little octapus but is also calming aid that helps your baby to feel at home and helps to stop them from pulling out their tubing and drips.
- Join a support group. There is a lovely support group for NICU parents on Facebook called My Little Prem Support SA (@MyLittlePrem), where you can share your stories and chat to other moms that are going through or have gone through similar experiences like you. Your friends and family might not understand how strange and difficult NICU can be for a parent, and it is so amazing to be able to relate to other mothers who have followed the same journey as you have. It does help to make you feel less alone and more heard.
- Find your preemie nappies that will make such a difference in your little one’s life
- Finally buy your baby a coming home outfit. You might find that new born clothing is a bit large for your little one. We love the Little Little Prem range of Premature clothing as they are made from cotton and are super comfortable.
Remember that you are the mom of this very special baby, whatever the reason for your baby coming early it is not your fault, it is just what has happened. If you have a had a baby born to early please reach out and let us know your story, join the My Little Prem Support SA Facebook group or reach out to My Breastpump for more information on having a premature baby in NICU.