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For Parents with Babies on the Neonatal Unit

For Parents with Babies on the Neonatal Unit

If your baby is born early, or you know that your baby will need extra care on the Neonatal Unit after they are born, this information should be helpful to you.

When a baby is born early or ‘premature’, parents can feel scared, confused and worried, and may feel ‘disconnected’ from their baby during baby’s stay in a Neonatal Unit.

These feelings are normal, and it may take a while for you to adjust and come to terms with having a baby who was born early or who needs special care.

During this time, staff on the Neonatal Unit will be aware of this, and will provide you with all the help and support you need.

Infant Feeding: For parents with babies on the Neonatal Unit

Preparing for baby

If you know your baby will be arriving soon, you may wish to try antenatal expression of colostrum from 36 / 37 weeks of pregnancy, so that your early breastmilk can be given to your baby after they are born, as part of their care.

It’s useful to talk to friends and family too, so they understand how important this is to both you and your baby, and can support you.

After baby is born

Giving your baby your breastmilk is one of the best things you can do for your baby, especially if they’re born early or unwell, and is something that only you can do for them.

Your breastmilk is unique, and will provide your baby with all the nutrients they need, but also antibodies to protect them from illness.

If your baby is not able to breastfeed at first after they are born, you will be supported to express your breastmilk, so that your baby still benefits from the special protective and developmental properties that your breastmilk provides.

Liquid Gold

Infant Feeding: Liquid Gold Certificate

We have made a commitment to support mothers to provide their babies with the best possible start when they go to the Neonatal Unit.

This national standard is to enable mothers to give their baby their early breastmilk – called colostrum – because of the many beneficial effects it has for babies.

We call early colostrum “Liquid Gold” because it’s so important for babies, especially if they’re born early or unwell.

We also empower mothers to carry on giving their babies their breast milk by supporting them with expressing, so that when baby goes home they are still receiving their mother's milk.

For babies who are born early their mothers’ own milk acts as a medicine, making it less likely that they’ll become unwell, so our aim is for every baby to have the opportunity to receive the precious liquid gold of their mother’s early breastmilk.

Top tips for expressing for a baby on a Neonatal Unit:

  • Start expressing as soon as you can after baby is born. Within the first couple of hours is ideal
  • Try to express 8 – 10 times each 24 hours, especially over the first 2 weeks, to build up a good supply
  • Keep track of the amount you express every day – it should gradually increase, to keep up with baby’s growing needs
  • If you express while separated from your baby, looking at photos of your baby or smelling something that has been close to them will help
  • While expressing on the Neonatal Unit, being close to your baby can help to increase the amount you are able to express
  • Ask the staff on the Unit for help and support with your expressing technique and frequency

Even if your baby is not ready to feed straight after birth, tiny amounts of your breastmilk will protect them from infections and help to care for their mouth and throat.

The earlier you start to express, and the more often you do so, the more breastmilk you will make for your baby.

In the early days after your baby is born, to help you build up your breastmilk supply and provide all the breastmilk your baby needs, it is helpful to express between 8 – 12 times every 24 hours, including at least once at night.

You will be provided with a breastpump, or if you prefer you can hand express, and a member of staff on the Neonatal Unit will help you to start.

If your baby was born very premature you may need to express for many weeks or even months, which some women can find tiring and frustrating at times. 

The staff on the Neonatal Unit will understand this, and will support you to ‘double pump’, which will increase your breastmilk supply more quickly and save you some time.

Staff will also support you with when and how often you express, so that it fits around your daily schedule, and any childcare/work obligations you might have.

For more information about how to express for your baby in neonatal care, see the UNICEF Baby Friendly’s video on hand expression, the Bliss Expressing webpageand the Parentclub’s Breastfeeding premature and sick babies webpages.

If your baby needs supplementary feeds

While you are establishing your breastmilk supply, your baby may be eligible to receive donor breastmilk.

If formula is needed to be given to your baby, staff on the Neonatal Unit will discuss this with you and gain your consent first.  

If supplementary feeds are needed, staff will discuss ‘responsive’ or ‘paced’ bottle feedingor cup feeding (PDF, 635Kb), to enable you and your baby to still establish breastfeeding.

Parents as partners in your baby’s care

During baby’s stay on the Neonatal Unit, it’s important to remember that you are a very important part of their daily life and care.

While you were pregnant, your baby will have become familiar with your voice, so knowing you are close, and hearing you gently speaking, reading or singing to them, will help to calm and reassure them.

The Neonatal Unit staff will show you how you can be involved in your baby’s care, and how to hold and comfort your baby.

When your baby is ready, you will also be shown how to have skin to skinwith your baby and provide them with kangaroo care. Holding baby, and looking into their eyes, will help them to feel safe and comforted.

Skin to skin and kangaroo care with baby are very special times for you both, as they help to steady your baby’s heart beat, breathing and temperature.

They also help baby to feel calm, less stressed and helps them to grow and sleep well, plus can mean that baby is discharged from hospital sooner.

For mothers, skin to skin and kangaroo care time is also very important, leaving mothers feeling more relaxed and calm, and helping them to make more breastmilk.

Beginning to breastfeed

When your baby is well enough to breathe without help, you and your baby can start to learn to breastfeed together, with help from the Neonatal Unit staff.  

When your baby is 32-34 weeks, they will begin to be able to suckle, swallow and breathe at the same time.

Some babies may still need to have some of their milk given to them via tube feeds, but with support you should both be able to establish breastfeeding over time.  

Staff will support you to have skin to skin with your baby, so you can look out for baby’s early feeding cues.

As baby starts to stir, open their mouth and poke their tongue out, letting them lick and nuzzle at the breast will help your baby to get to know you better and help you to make more breastmilk.

Staff will show you how to hold your baby for feeding, so you can gradually increase feeds over time, until baby is fully breastfed.

The UNICEF Baby Friendly Initiative’s You and Your Baby leaflet, provides more information on expressing, comforting and caring for your baby, moving on to breastfeeding and when it is time to take your baby home.

The La Leche League GB’s Successfully breastfeeding your premature baby webpageprovides more information about what you can do to prepare before baby arrives, how you might feel when baby is born, how to establish breastfeeding, looking after yourself, and about taking your breastfed baby home after a stay on the neonatal unit.

For more information, Blissoffers all families of premature and sick babies confidential advice, information and support when they need it most, and our Infant Feeding Team webpagesprovides more information on feeding your baby.

Information for parents about the ‘Baby Diary’ app

The ‘Baby Diary’ app is designed for parents and families of babies cared for in their hospital’s neonatal unit.

"Sometimes it isn’t possible to always be with your baby while they are being cared for in a hospital’s neonatal unit.

BadgerNet Baby Diary allows parents and family secure, real time access to photos of their baby while in hospital care, over the internet through their PC, tablet device, or mobile phone.” 

Download our Information for Parents About the ‘Baby Diary App (PDF, 204Kb) sheet for all the details you need.

For more information about the app and how it all works, ask a member of staff on the Neonatal Unit who will be happy to help you.

A Teaching Trust of the University of Birmingham