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Disclaimer: The information in this post is for educational purposes only. I am not a doctor. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. None of the opinions are meant to diagnose or treat any disease or illness. You should always consult your healthcare provider.

Breastfeeding Your Hospitalized Baby

Most expectant moms imagine a few days relaxing in the hospital with their newborn after delivery. They don’t expect having to hospitalize their baby for any reason. I certainly didn’t. It’s a challenge to establish the breastfeeding relationship under normal circumstances! But breastfeeding your hospitalized baby is a whole other experience. Fortunately, with determination, patience, and the right help and knowledge, it can be done!

Breastfeeding your hospitalized baby: making the best of a less-than-ideal situation

It was not what I imagined at all, but a NICU visit was necessary for our daughter shortly after she was born. We were thankful that her condition (fairly minor birth defects) was not life-threatening. But she stayed in the NICU for a few days in order to undergo a number of tests. Since she was full-term she was able to breastfeed. Our story would have been very different if she was a preemie or if her condition had prevented her from being able to eat normally. In those situations, breastfeeding your hospitalized baby would be a different kind of challenge. But even for me it was a new experience.

I wouldn’t wish this kind of situation on anyone. However, if you or someone you know has an infant in the hospital, I’ll share what I’ve learned with the hope that it can help someone. Breastfeeding your hospitalized baby can be done. In addition, it can make the whole experience less stressful for you and your baby. Even in the hospital, you can benefit from the joy and comfort that breastfeeding provides for both mother and child.

Take care of yourself

When you’re breastfeeding your hospitalized baby, you need to intentionally take care of yourself! This may seem counter-intuitive when you want to focus all your energy on caring for your little one (ask me how I know). But in order to be able to care for your child to the best of your abilities, you need to give your body what it needs, too. This comes down to two basic things: food and rest.

In both areas, focus on quality over quantity. You might not have much of an appetite, which is understandable. What you do eat should be highly nutritious, full of protein and healthy fats and carbs to give you energy and help with your milk production. Drink a TON of water. Every hospital floor has a water and ice dispenser. Take advantage of it, and of the medical staff’s offers to get you whatever you need. If you’re nursing your baby and your water cup is empty, ask a nurse to fill it for you. Most of them will be more than happy to do that.

Eat as well as you can! Hospital cafeterias can be hit-or-miss when it comes to the quality and nutrition of the food they offer. So make smart choices and avoid filling up on junk food and empty calories. Salad bars, sandwiches, grab-and-go items like yogurt and fruit, are all relatively inexpensive and quick to eat when you just want to get back to your child’s bedside.

On that note, it will be hard to leave your child to rest, but you need to. If you’re not sleeping enough everything will seem harder than it already is. And your body needs the rest in order to establish and keep up your milk supply. Many children’s hospitals will have a place nearby where parents can rest comfortably. Take advantage of that! Naps in the recliner in your child’s room will help tide you over, but they’re no substitute for even a few hours of solid sleep in a real bed. When you’re breastfeeding your hospitalized baby it can be challenging to leave for any length of time. But if your baby absolutely needs to eat when you’re away the nurses can feed them a bottle. Which leads to my next point…

Your pump is your friend

Whether you’ve been “blessed” with oversupply (which is always my experience!) or whether you’re struggling to establish supply and produce enough milk for your child, your pump will be your most helpful tool when you’re breastfeeding your hospitalized baby. If you have more milk than your baby can eat, pump the excess and store it for those times when your baby needs to eat but you’re not with her. If you end up having lots of extra milk, you can donate it to a milk bank. Talk with the lactation consultant at your hospital for more information on donating.

If you are having trouble producing enough milk, your pump can also help. You’ll need to pump frequently between feedings in order to signal your body to make more milk. Again, talk to your lactation consultant if you’re struggling with this. She’s specifically trained to help new moms with any and all breastfeeding issues!

The hospital should provide a pump and supplies for you, including a sanitizing bag, a basin to wash parts, and milk storage containers. If you need anything, ask the nurses. You’ll also be provided with a place to pump privately if you’d rather not do it in your child’s room. A hospital room is a busy place and there are people coming in and out frequently. If you’re self-conscious about pumping in front of anyone you can do it elsewhere. You can also ask for a “breastfeeding mom” sign to be put up outside the door. This signals people to knock and give you warning before they enter.

Breastfeeding your hospitalized baby

Ask for help

I’ve mentioned this already, but when you’re breastfeeding your hospitalized baby, ask for all the help you need and don’t feel bad about it! Whether you need water, snacks or reading material; whether you need more privacy or more company; if you need a nap or just a few minutes’ walk outside; ask for help.

Ideally your spouse will be with you and can help you with many of these things. However, especially in cases of long-term hospital stays, many husbands eventually need to return to work.  Not every mom has a friend or relative who can stay with her. Talk to your child’s nurses, the lactation consultant, the hospital social worker, etc. They’re all there to help you and most of them are eager to serve in any way you need.

Taking care of a child in the hospital is incredibly stressful and can also be very frustrating, sad, and scary. Add to that the challenge of breastfeeding your hospitalized baby and you will want all the help you can get. Never apologize for asking for it.

Breastfeeding your hospitalized baby is a labor of love

When your little one is in the hospital, breastfeeding might be a huge challenge even more than it could be otherwise. Many days you might want to quit. But it will be worth it in the end! Remember how much your breast milk benefits your baby, by providing the exact nutrition they need. And breastfeeding is so good for your mental, physical and emotional health, too, as it releases much-needed oxytocin and helps you bond with your baby, even in the stressful environment of a hospital. Breastfeeding your hospitalized baby is one of the very best ways you can comfort them when they’re sad, sick, scared, or in pain. Your little one will know how much you love them, and that’s a priceless gift no matter where you are. Just like any breastfeeding mama, you are a rock star.


Jaimie Ramsey is a Jesus-following wife, mama and homemaker. She loves spending time with family and friends, long walks on sunny days, mugs of tea, and reading good books (when she can find the time!). Find her online at her blog, on Facebook (, and on Pinterest (

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