***Because preemies have very specific issues, I have not addressed their special needs in this context. There is information available from La Leche League International on the special situation of breastfeeding a preemie.

Breastfeeding the Hospitalized Baby
by Cyndi Egbert

While it is a blessed fact that babies come in two genders, for the sake of clarity, mother is referred to as "she" and baby is referred to as "he" for the purposes of this information sheet.

None of the information contained herein is meant to provide medical or legal advice. These are merely suggestions. All decisions should be discussed with your health care provider.

This information is a guideline, a starting point for discussion with your child's caregivers. Because each child's condition and situation is unique, anything affecting the child's overall well-being should be agreed upon by all involved. It must be stressed that, ultimately, the parents have the final say on all aspects of their child's care.


Index: 
     Breastfeeding the Hospitalized Baby-Main Text
     Appendix A: Glossary of Useful Terms
     Appendix B: Chain of Command
     Appendix C: Where to Find Help
     Quick Checklist: At-a-Glance Reference

Pregnancy is generally a time of anticipating wonderful things to come. Even when the pregnancy was unexpected, most mothers are eager to greet and come to know their new child by the time of the birth. The thought that there might be a problem occurs to all of us at one time or another; but it is usually dismissed quickly as unfounded.

Sometimes it is apparent during the pregnancy that something is amiss, but more often it is at delivery or within a few days after that problems suddenly show up. An older baby may suddenly become very ill and require hospitalization.

As unfortunate as these things are, it is more unfortunate still that many mothers, overwhelmed by their child's condition, the medical staff and the hospital setting itself, conclude that breastfeeding is no longer an option. Breastfeeding may be abandoned or never initiated.

Following are a few guidelines that may help breastfeeding remain a viable option.

Once your baby is physically able to nurse, different issues come into the picture. Your baby may have some difficulties with the act of nursing. This may be due to being intubated, an aversion to being touched around the face or mouth, congestion, weakness or congenital abnormalities of the mouth. Some problems, such as weakness or congestion, may just take some time to resolve. A very weak baby will likely be tube-fed to conserve energy, and in that case nutrition will not be the main concern. Other problems may warrant a consultation with the lactation consultant on staff or a local La Leche League Leader. She will be able to offer concrete suggestions, perform an evaluation, or refer you to an appropriate therapist and/or other resources.

I know how difficult it is to breastfeed in adverse circumstances. My own daughter would not have been breastfed were it not for my background as a former La Leche League Leader. Even with my determination, there were many obstacles to overcome. I am thankful for the friends who were able to support me through the six weeks we spent at the hospital. My daughter did not successfully nurse until after she was discharged at six weeks of age. At two months of age she still had not regained her birthweight! Two months after that, however, she was actually plump.

She is frequently ill and has had pneumonia a number of times. Many of the pediatric nurses at her hospital know us on sight. Yet, when I talk with other parents of children with her problems, I realize how very lucky we've been. I am sure that breastfeeding has prevented far worse complications than the ones we deal with. So while no one can promise that your child will never get sick again if you breastfeed, you can be sure that the benefits will still be tremendous. 


Appendix A: Glossary of Useful Terms
Appendix B: Chain of Command
Appendix C: Where to Find Help
Quick Checklist: At-a-Glance Reference


Copyright 1998 Cyndi Egbert. All rights reserved. Please e-mail all reprint requests to Cyndi at: CyndiMom23@aol.com.