Most mothers aren’t counting on their baby spending time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). If they do end up in the NICU, though, pumping is an effective alternative for breastfeeding. Pumps for Mom knows that having a baby in the NICU is stressful enough without having to worry about breast pumping. Here’s what NICU moms need to know so that you can pump, relax, and address your baby’s specific needs.

How Do You Pump if Your Baby is in the NICU?

If your baby is in the NICU, you can stimulate your milk production hormones by holding your baby against your skin, if you’re able. If you’re not able to hold your baby, try looking at a photograph of them or smelling a piece of their worn clothing to help with stimulation. 

How Often Do You Pump?

Typical newborns eat 10-12 times every 24 hours, so you should aim to match your pumping to that amount.  After a month, aim for about eight times a day. This will mean that you’re pumping every two-three hours for the first few weeks. Pumping should take about 10-20 minutes on each breast. If you have twins or more babies, you will need to pump more often and for a longer period. 

How Much Milk Will There Be?

Colostrum is the first form of milk that will come out, and it’s packed with nutrients for your newborn. There may not be much at first, especially if your baby is premature, but that’s ok! Breast milk generally operates as a supply and demand system and produces the amount your baby needs to be healthy. The more you pump, the more milk you will produce. 

What Do You Need to Pump in the NICU?

Make sure to talk to the medical experts at the NICU to make the best plan for your baby and figure out what accessories you need for maximum comfort. Some pieces you may consider in addition the pump include:

  • Hands-free nursing bra
  • Nursing cover
  • Car adapter
  • Extra pump parts
  • Sterilizing bags
  • Wash tub
  • Cooler bag
  • Breast warmers 

Which Type of Pump Should NICU Moms Use?

A hospital-grade electric breast pump is a great option, as is a hands-free pump. The NICU often has pumps available for visiting moms. You also may qualify for a free pump through insurance—Pumps for Mom can help guide you through the steps to getting your free breast pump. 

We like to recommend the Medela Freestyle breast pump for its convenience with a rechargeable battery, since many moms waiting on their baby in NICU need to travel back and forth a lot. The Spectra S1 Plus is also a great lightweight, portable option with a massage mode and a built-in nightlight. 

How Do NICU Moms Store and Transport Breast Milk?

The hospital will likely provide NICU moms with containers to store your breast milk. Make sure to always label the container, don’t mix milk from different pumping sessions, and refrigerate or freeze the milk within two days after pumping. To travel, keep refrigerated milk on ice in a cooler and keep frozen milk in a cooler without ice, which will actually make it thaw more quickly.

The most important thing to remember while you’re pumping in the NICU is that you’re doing a great job! Your parental instincts are kicking in to help you take care of your baby, and that’s all that matters. Talk to the hospital staff and other moms to help guide you on your pumping journey. If you want to learn more about qualifying for a breast pump through insurance or details about a specific pump, reach out to Pumps for Mom for more information!