Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) Breastfeeding Tips

Breastfeeding your neonate.

Browse the information below for tips on breastfeeding your baby in the Arkansas Children's Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).

How to Help Your Baby's Health by Breastfeeding

  • Breastmilk is the very best food for babies.
  • Please consider pumping breastmilk, even if you had not planned to breastfeed, so that your baby may receive the following benefits of breastmilk:
    • Reduced risk of intestinal problems for premature infants.
    • Helps your baby fight infection.
    • Improved tolerance of feedings.
  • Facts about pumping breastmilk:
    • Pumping does not mean you have to breastfeed.
    • Starting breast pumping does not commit you to continue after the baby goes home. Even a few days or weeks of breastmilk are very helpful to a sick baby.
    • A baby can be changed to formula later if you prefer.
    • Most mothers with medical problems or who smoke tobacco can safely provide breastmilk for their babies.
    • Most common medications given to post-partum mothers are safe to use while pumping or breastfeeding.
    • Ask a nurse to help you start pumping breastmilk as soon as possible.
    • In the beginning, you will only see drops, this will increase gradually.
    • Save all pumped milk in sterile bottles/bags and refrigerate.
    • The ACH Lactation Consultants will contact you and help orient you to our pumping room and answer any questions or concerns you may have.

Frequently Asked Questions about Breastfeeding

Can I provide breastmilk for my baby when my baby is in the hospital?

YES! Breastmilk is the very best nutrition!

What is available at Arkansas Children’s Hospital for mothers who are breastfeeding or who want to pump breastmilk for their child?

Lactation Specialists are available Monday - Friday 9 am to 9 pm. Any mother can request help by calling the Lactation office at (501) 364-1576. Lactation Specialists at Arkansas Children's Hospital are International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC). 

The Lactation Specialists provide the following services and more:

  • Education about breastfeeding 
  • Breastfeeding the normal newborn 
  • Breastfeeding/Pumping breastmilk for baby who is premature, sick or has had surgery

The Lactation Specialists provide Advice and teaching about: 

  • Beginning breast pumping 
  • Keeping milk supply going when the baby is unable to breastfeed 
  • Taking care of problems such as low milk supply or painful breasts 
  • What to do when the baby will not latch, is not gaining weight or will not breastfeed 
  • Storing breastmilk safely in the refrigerator or freezer 
  • Ways to take breastmilk to or from the hospital 
  • Cleaning the breast pump equipment

Q: Why is “breastmilk best”?

Breastmilk from each mother is specifically made to match the nutritional needs of the baby. Breastmilk also helps the baby's immature immune system among many other things!

Breastmilk provides protection from disease.

  • Infants who receive breastmilk are not sick as often.
  • The illness is usually milder if a breastmilk fed infant does get sick.
  • Breastmilk is more easily digested than formula.

Q: Why is mother’s milk especially important for premature infants?

Breastmilk provides protection against a disease that is more common in premature infants called Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC).

  • NEC can make infants critically ill and damage the intestines which would require a much longer hospital stay.
  • Breastmilk from the mother of a premature baby is very special and different from other mothers. A mother's body adapts and makes milk that is more suited to the needs of a premature infant and adjusts over time as the baby matures
  • Premature babies who get only mother’s milk usually go home earlier and have fewer problems

Every drop of breastmilk helps. Even if a mother can only pump for a few days or weeks, it will make a difference! First feedings are usually only a few drops.

Q: How can I provide breastmilk if my baby is in the hospital?

If breastfeeding your child is not possible, then you can express your milk using a breast pump. ACH has a lactation center where breast pumps are located. It is located in the NICU, and is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. A nurse or lactation consultant can provide the supplies necessary and show you how to use them. The sooner after delivery that breastfeeding or pumping is initiated the more likely the mother will make enough milk for the child. Frequent pumping is also necessary if the child is not nursing frequently or effectively.

It is recommended to pump 8 times in a day (Approximately every 3 hours, even through the night).

Q: What are the benefits to the mother for providing breastmilk?

Breastfeeding provides a special bond between mother and baby.

  • Gives the mother an active part in helping her baby get well
  • Lowers the mother’s risks for breast and ovarian cancer
  • Makes it easier for the mother to lose the baby weight

Visit the Arkansas Department of Health website for additional information about breastfeeding.

Q: What do mothers need to know about pumping?

Pumping does not mean you have to breastfeed.

  • A mom can stop pumping at anytime
  • If a baby starts being fed with breastmilk, it does not mean the baby can only ever have breastmilk
  • A baby can receive formula if the mother is not producing enough milk or if she stops pumping breastmilk
  • The breast pump is comfortable and easy to use
  • Learn how to get a breast pump from Arkansas WIC.

Q: Can my premature infant breastfeed?

YES! Below is a list of signs that your baby is getting ready:

Your baby can:

  • Be held without changes in heart rate, oxygenation or temperature
  • Take a pacifier or sucks on feeding tube

Your baby is:

  • 32-34 weeks adjusted gestational age
  • Able to stay awake for several minutes at a time
  • Allows mouth to be touched
  • Rooting or sucking when anything comes near the mouth.