When It's Time to Go Home
Sometimes families face an unexpected crisis when the baby is ready to be released from the NICU. They worry that the baby is still very small and wonder if they will be able to adequately feed and care for their child. Many hospitals now have programs that allow parents to room-in with their infants for 24 hours before discharge. This gives the family an opportunity to transition to providing full care for their infant while supportive nurses and lactation consultants are available.
The good news is that no matter how long the NICU stay or how many bottles a preemie has received, many will begin to breastfeed normally once they develop the maturity, size, and stamina of a term baby. The transition to full breastfeeding, if desired, will probably be gradual. Parents are urged to take patient "baby steps." This is the time when a full milk supply is helpful. The baby will be less fussy if the milk reward is quick. Sometimes a feeding tube device (a bottle of milk with a thin silicone tube taped to the breast) can provide the baby with encouragement if the milk supply is low.
Weekly weight checks and the help of a community-based, board-certified lactation consultant can provide reassurance during the transition period. Most parents describe a turning point, often around the time of the original due date, when feeding stabilizes and everyone begins to feel more confident. That day, as far away as it can sometimes seem, will finally come.