When my daughter was born 6 weeks early and was in the NICU 4 days after I was discharged, it broke my heart having to leave the hospital without her.
I knew that I needed to be there as much as possible- for us to make a connection, and because I read somewhere that the more time parents spend with their NICU babies, the faster they get out of there. I mean, I could have heard it on Grey's Anatomy... but hey- it worked because her stay was only 6 days- two of which were just for her to prove she could gain weight.
She was born on a Thursday at 11:08am. There's details about our birth story here, but I'll skip to the post birth part. A lactation consultant came by my room sometime that afternoon, maybe around 3 or so. She gave me pumping parts and bottles, and showed me how to attach them to the Medela pump that was in my room. She went over how to use everything, and told me to pump every 3 hours because that was how often Eliana was being fed in the NICU. And then I was left on my own and it was all up to me on how it was going to go.
I'm not going to lie- the first two days I didn't get much of anything- which got really discouraging. But regardless of how little colostrum I was pumping, I brought it with me to the NICU every 3 hours- the NICU nurses assured me every tiny drop counts. On the 3rd day I started getting 5ml, then 7ml, then 10ml. And it just kept increasing as the days went on. So if you're on day one or two or even three and not getting much milk- KEEP TRYING. Keep being consistent. Oh, and pump at least once in the middle of the night. It really makes a difference.
I was discharged without my baby on Saturday- and that was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. I just wanted to be with her, to let her know she wasn't alone- that her momma was there for her. So as hard as it was leaving her, I was determined to be there as much as possible. Also note that the NICU she was in was 35 miles away from our house. So I was going to make the most out of my visiting as possible.
I got the hang of the nurse's system during the two days I stayed in the hospital after giving birth. They fed Eliana every 3 hours, but changed her diaper and took her temperature before feeding her. She did take a long time to eat since her "suck, swallow, breathe" wasn't very efficient yet. And then I would need to pump after cuddling with her a while, and then I would need to eat/decompress before starting it all over again.
So each day I packed my diaper bag with my pump parts, snacks, and my phone charger. The schedule went something like this:
10:45am - arrive and change diaper/take temperature
11:00am - start feeding
11:45am - cuddle time after feeding
12:35pm - pump in the pumping room in the NICU
1:00pm - go eat, decompress, update family, etc.
1:45pm - change diaper/take temperature
2:00 pm - start feeding
2:45pm - cuddle
3:35pm - pump
4:00pm - go eat, decompress, etc.
4:45pm - change diaper/take temperature
5:00 pm - start feeding
5:45pm - cuddle
6:35pm - pump
6:55pm - say goodbye to Elli for the day
After being discharged Saturday, I did this Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, and we got to take her home Wednesday. It seems like a LONG time to be in a hospital for one day, but because I had the sole purpose to spend time and bond with my brand new daughter, the days flew by with this schedule.
Some things I learned:
1. I would arrive 15 minutes early because the nurses were VERY prompt on feeding times, so I needed to be there so they knew by my presence that I wanted to do the changing and feeding that round.
2. Get a hands free pumping bra. TRUST ME. The time passes way faster when you don't have to hold the pumps the whole time. And this obviously let's you pump both breasts at the same time- which is much more efficient and you get more milk.
3. Taking the time to go eat and decompress was so important. I felt guilty the first day, going and taking care of myself. But momma, you gotta take care of yourself. You can't pour from an empty cup, and sometimes your NICU visit might be overwhelming with crying or spit up or something concerning that the doctor said. Take time to eat, drink some water, update your family or spouse, and then start over.
4. Learn your nurse's name that's on your baby's schedule that day. They usually take care of multiple babies, and if they see that you kind of know what you're doing, they won't bother you and they'll take care of the babies whose parents aren't there. But if you need something, its good to know their name. You'll also discover some nurses will be very hands on, and others just assume you know what you're doing. So don't be afraid to ask for something if you need it.
5. Bring water with you when you pump. You will get very thirsty. It's super simple, but super easy to forget. And the more hydrated you are, the better it is for your supply.
This schedule works great for parents who live further away from their baby's hospital. If I were in the same town as the hospital, I would probably run home for a few hours and then go back. But to save on gas and time, I just spent 6 to 8 hours in the hospital each day.
I hope this is helpful to some NICU mommy out there. I'm the kind of person that needs a structured game plan, and this worked perfectly. And spending so much time with my daughter really seemed to improve her health issues faster.
Starting this routine right away not only helped me get the hang of pumping, but it helped me get used to a pumping schedule for when we got home from the hospital.
We struggled and still struggle with breastfeeding (that's a whole other blog post for another time) but we are 10 weeks in and I'm still exclusively pumping- and producing double what she's eating so that I can freeze and store some milk for later.
Let me know below what your schedule was, or how your experience in the NICU was!