Each year, 10 – 15 percent of babies born in the U.S. are treated in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). There are a number of reasons this happens:

  • Premature birth
  • Breathing problems
  • Infections
  • Difficult delivery

When you’re the parent of a newborn in the NICU, it’s so easy to feel helpless. There are so many lines and tubes connected to your baby and all you really want to do is comfort him or her. Historically, that’s all you really could do. But recent studies are showing that there is one step mom can take to help improve the health of her little one. Feed them breast milk!

Feeding breast milk to newborns in the NICU has become a more common practice. More than nourishment, mom’s milk provides the antibodies and vitamins that a baby needs, especially those that are ill and/or premature. Put simply, mom’s milk is medicine that only she can provide.

Oftentimes, NICU babies need to be fed through a feeding tube or bottle. This means that mom has to keep up a steady pumping regimen at home, store the milk and then bring it in for her baby. Consistent pumping is important because that’s what keeps up the milk production. All of this can be especially difficult for a mom who had her heart set on experiencing the mother-baby bonding that breast feeding offers. It can be tough to have to pump instead. Moms are usually in a fragile state, but you still have to focus on what’s best for baby.

To help NICU moms during this difficult time, our staff at Methodist Children’s Hospital in San Antonio is starting a breast feeding peer counseling program. The counselors are moms whose babies are former NICU patients.  They can identify with many of the feelings these new moms are experiencing. The peer counselors are valuable members of the medical team. The time they spend encouraging and supporting the moms will result in longer pumping/feeding durations which will in turn yield better outcomes for the high risk infants in the NICU.

The program just launched in October of this year. We’ll be sure to check back in with you in a couple of months to share some of the results. Until then I’m curious to know your thoughts on this type of program. Have any of you ever been a part of a hospital peer counseling program? Or are you a mom who had to breastfeed/pump for your newborn in the NICU? Would you have found a program like this helpful?