By Crystal Deming, RN, lactation consultant at CHOC Children’s
Surgery, ventilators, central lines with IV nutrition, and medications are just some of the tools that can save and improve lives of babies in the CHOC Children’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Yet some parents may overlook a mother’s own breast milk as lifesaving or as a medication as well. In the NICU, our mantra to new moms is “Your Milk is Medicine.” From the moment our families are admitted to our care, we begin the process of helping moms understand the value of their breast milk for their infant, giving them helpful information, necessary equipment and continual support from our multidisciplinary team, to help them produce and express breast milk for their own infant and to support breastfeeding when it becomes appropriate.
Our goal is to lessen the strain of separation by including families in the care team, by collaborating with parents and promoting their participation in the care of their infant. We initiate skin to skin contact, or Kangaroo Care, as soon as possible and have protocols to do this safely with even the smallest infants. Families later comment that this first experience holding their infant was a time of healing and bonding. This intimate interaction provides a break from the stress that can come with not being able to take your baby home from the hospital right away. Moms, babies and family members secrete oxytocin with this skin to skin touch and that gives them a sense of relaxation, wellbeing and promotes bonding. Skin to skin care often increases a mom’s milk supply, and we consider this holding the first step toward breastfeeding.
Assistance in Obtaining Breastfeeding Supplies
We can assist moms in obtaining a breast pump for home or connect them with a free pump to borrow, or help her submit a prescription to her insurance until she can obtain one of her own to keep. From hour one, we help teach hand expression and techniques to improve milk removal. Later we help moms maintain their milk supply, while supporting hydration and nutrition with our meal program, where some meals are provided free of charge when moms are in the hospital with their baby. We can also help with breast and nipple issues that can develop with prolonged pumping, as well as assist with storage when moms have a full milk supply but are waiting for their little one to grow into full size feedings.
With developmental specialists, lactation consultants and specialty trained nurses, our team helps moms to adapt positioning and use tools to assist latching. We help moms learn the special behaviors of a premature or healing infant and to pace their feeding accordingly. Each mother/infant relationship is unique and our goal is to help families to have a fruitful and satisfying experience together. For some this can become exclusive breastfeeding and for others, partial breastfeeding that is neither stressful nor overwhelming. And for some we support their difficulty in producing milk while continuing to support skin to skin care and parental involvement in decision making and for the care of their infant in other ways.
World Breastfeeding Week
World Breastfeeding Week is an annual health observance recognized by more than 170 countries around the world, being celebrated this year from August 1-7. One of its goals is to show the importance of, “Good Health & Wellbeing,” and how incorporating breastfeeding has been shown to improve the lives of infants and children. Breastfeeding supports a baby’s health, development and even survival, but we also recognize there are health benefits for their mothers as well.