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Pumping for Your Premature Baby

By Candace Campbell, DNP, RN, CNL

Pumping for Your Premature Baby

Are you the mom of a preemie who dreads pumping milk at night while the baby is in the NICU? You’re not alone. Who can blame you? It’s inconvenient. It interrupts your sleep. And perhaps you’re discouraged that even though you are pumping every 2-3 hours during the day, your milk supply is also dwindling.

While there is no solution to the fact that your milk supply follows the simple principle of supply and demand (i.e., if the demand exists, the supply will follow), there are a few simple strategies you can use to help support your milk supply.

Set up a pumping station

This would be ideally placed in a comfortable, well-lit area away from your partner (no need for you both to lose sleep). Before you retire for the evening, cover a plate of healthy snacks (e.g., celery and peanut butter, apples and cheese, or any protein/fruit/veggie combo that doesn’t require refrigeration) and place it at your cozy spot. Add a pitcher of iced water (or water plus juice), a photo of your newborn, headphone access to soothing music, and you’ll be good to go when the alarm clock buzzes.

Pump efficiently

Try to limit the whole pumping routine to less than 30 minutes. Sit comfortably upright at your prepared place (good lung expansion increases milk flow), attach the pump on both sides simultaneously (you can rent or buy a dual electronic breast pump), and start snacking. Then rise, empty your bladder and wash your hands. You may be tempted to skip this step, but omit it at your peril—breast infection, or mastitis—may be the painful result. Pump for 20 minutes, refrigerate or freeze your milk, rinse your equipment and head back to bed.

Making milk

Research shows there are 5 simple prerequisites for making milk:

    • Increase nutrition: 500 calories a day is recommended
    • Increase fluid intake: 10-12 glasses of water or other non‑caffeinated and non-sugary drinks are best
    • Decrease stress: this is hard; your baby is in the NICU!
    • Get lots of sleep: another hard one!
    • Stay on schedule: pump milk every 2-4 hours round the clock


Tempted to skip the snack?

Don’t—it will help keep your blood sugar level in a more even state, which in turn serves to increase estrogen and prolactin levels that help elevate both your mood and your lactation supply. You should see improved milk results in a day or two.

Related articles: Sustaining breastfeeding & Boost breastfeeding

Filmmaker, author, and Healthcare Communication Specialist, Candace Campbell, DNP, RN, CNL, also serves as adjunct faculty at California State University East Bay. For more info, visit candycampbell.com.

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