I have been told that there are women out there who have no trouble with breastfeeding. That it just came natural and simple. I don’t know these unicorns and unfortunately was never one (although I fully believe they exist and bless them).

I thought that nursing for about a year with my first who had a mild lip tie and was a biter was rough, and then I had a preemie. Nursing can be extremely difficult in the NICU. I wasn’t physically well enough to go visit our 34-weeker for the first few days. My amazing nurse and husband would hold me up together to pump just to try to get my body producing milk. On top of that he couldn’t suck well at first, and had a severe tongue tie. Just attempting to nurse would exhaust him and he wouldn’t eat much. I was desperate and feeling completely beaten down when a NICU nurse gave me the advice that if I just started exclusively pumping we might be able to get out released sooner and then work on nursing from home. This proved to be a blessing and curse, it worked and we were out in about a week from when she mentioned it, but it made our journey of nursing even harder. We were able to transition to exclusively nursing over the next six weeks and successfully breastfeed for 16 months.

Here are the five tips that helped me the most.

  1. Nurse for Comfort

With preemies it is essential that they keep growing. You will often have weekly or bimonthly appointments for a while until they hit certain growth milestones. Since they are not used to nursing quite yet be patient. Offer nursing when they need soothing. Finding it as a comfort can be a good tool to associate it positively for them.

2. Offer breast every time

At first I offered once he was done with a bottle so see if I could kind of top him off. This was mainly because I was so paranoid about making sure he ate a certain amount. It is important to offer your breast for nursing at every feed. The most success I had was offering each side (even if he only nursed a few minutes) and then letting him finish off with a bottle. Eventually his nursing times got longer and longer until that was all he needed. It is really important for this step to have help because you will either need to pump shortly before offering or right after (ideally while your helper is giving the baby the bottle).

3. Keep Pumping

It is really essential that you don’t let your supply go away while trying to transition to exclusively nursing. Don’t stop pumping. There are a ton of sites with great pumping schedules and even ways to help you keep up your supply. I struggled a lot when I had to return to work with keeping up my supply and these sites can be game changers.

4. See a Lactation Consultant

Talking about a game changer, lactation consultants are worth their weight in literal gold, or anything else more valuable than gold. Our sessions with our consultant, Sunayana, were just amazing. She was the first one that pointed out his tongue tie, she helped with different holds that worked better (apparently not every baby prefers football hold?), and supported me in emotionally as well. I fully believe I would not have been as successful in my breastfeeding journey without her. It is so incredibly important in this journey to ask for help.

5. Give Yourself some Grace

Babies are in the NICU for a reason. Whether they are full term and spend a few days or preemies and spend weeks to months, it is hard. It is hard for you, your body, your mental health, and your baby. Be kind to yourself and give yourself grace and patience. Breastfeeding has tremendous benefits for mothers and children and I hope one day every woman has the support she needs to be successful for as long as she wants. It is okay to feel discouraged but know that it is possible to exclusively feed a baby who did not nurse right away.

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