Breastfeeding Struggles After the NICU – Latched on Love

Breastfeeding Struggles After the NICU


Having a baby in the NICU is never part of your plan. But unfortunately this becomes a reality for many moms (myself included). 

Before my daughter was born, I imagined her being placed on my chest and breastfeeding fairly soon after she was born. It was supposed to be a magical bonding experience with breastfeeding front and center. But unfortunately that was not in the cards for us. Due to numerous complications, my daughter was quickly taken away from me and into the NICU where I didn't even get to hold her until days later, much less breastfeed. It was one of the most difficult times of my life. 

Her stay in the NICU greatly derailed our breastfeeding goals as she was put on formula through a bottle for her entire stay. When it came time to try breastfeeding, she just didn't know what to do and I was heartbroken. We tried a nipple shield and that didn't help much initially either. It was incredibly painful and to top it off, I wasn't making enough milk. Not at all what I had hoped for. The first few weeks were spent trying to breastfeed through the immense pain, supplementing with formula, and pumping- it was exhausting (physically and emotionally). 

I came incredibly close to giving up on breastfeeding, but there was this nagging voice in the back of my head saying "This is what you want- don't give up!" That's when I finally decided to reach out to La Leche League (at the insistence of my husband who knew how important breastfeeding my daughter was to me). Our local La Leche leader answered my call and took an hour out of her day to talk to me right away- through lots of tears she led me in the right direction. First, to an IBCLC to get assessed and get a plan in place. Then, she invited me to the next La Leche League meeting. From there, it was a rough road forward still, but that was the turning point. By about 3 months old, I FINALLY was exclusively breastfeeding my sweet girl and it was such an amazing accomplishment that I must admit I am very proud of. 

For mom's struggling with similar issues after a NICU stay- I want to give you hope that the breastfeeding goals you imagined before ARE possible. My daughter was on almost 90% formula in the beginning. I rarely pumped more than an once in a pumping session. I was in incredible pain. We had to use a nipple shield for the first two months. But guess what, it got better. I found an incredible support system in La Leche League and it changed everything. We slowly weaned off formula. I put baby to the breast ALL THE TIME to help my supply. I took supplements. Eventually she was able to latch without the nipple shield (I think it helps as their mouth gets a little bigger). 

It wasn't overnight or without tears and frustrations but we got there! Now breastfeeding is the easiest thing in the world to me and I couldn't imagine life without it. It may have been harder than average for us but I think that makes me appreciate it even more. My husband and I often say "TGFB!" (Thank God for Breastfeeding!) because it has made our life so much easier in so many ways! 

NICU mamas- please don't ever hesitate to reach out to me for support!

December 08, 2015 by Erin M
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Delynnr said:

My son was in the NICU for 7.5 weeks, and never got formula, but he did get donor milk at first until my milk came in. I worked long and hard to get my supply up. Now my supply is fine, but I’m having a ton of trouble getting my son to breastfeed directly. We were breastfeeding once a day (more than that exhausted him) but once we went home he developed some eating issues. It turned out he was reacting to the cow’s milk protein in the fortifier i was adding to my milk and then that had sensitized him to cow’s milk protein. Basically that meant that getting him to eat at all for a while was a struggle and in the interest of getting him to eat enough every day and not waste more energy fighting me to breastfeed we took a holiday from the daily breastfeeding.

Now we have his diet under control and he is actually not crying all the time! He is a happy baby again :) However, I just can’t get him to breastfeed. I’m using a nipple shield, as getting him to latch without it is completely impossible. Best case scenario he will latch on for a minute or two, but then start screaming bloody murder, even if he is getting milk. Worst case getting the shield in his mouth causes him to cry like he is being tortured. Do you have any recommendations? I had to go back to work, so forcing him to try the breast every time isn’t an option. At best I could offer the breast 1/2 of his feeds during the weekdays. I really want him to breastfeed directly from me :(

Latched on Love

Latched on Love said:

Hi Delynnr, I’m so sorry you are dealing with all these struggles. I know it isn’t easy! I am sending you an email so maybe I can help point you in the right direction or even just be an ear to listen!


H said:

Hiiii! I would love some advice on how to increase my supply and wean my little one off of formula. I’m doing both currently but i wanna be a Breast feed mom only! I hope to hear from you!!!

Erin @ Latched on Love

Erin @ Latched on Love said:

Hi! I think I emailed you but if not please shoot me an email!

Anyways, I’d highly recommend getting to an IBCLC or lactation consultant ASAP to figure out the underlying problem and get a plan set up to wean off the formula gradually. has a great article about weaning off formula.

Also, if you have a local La Leche League chapter I would head there- lots of moms have dealt with this and will have lots of different advice for you to try.

Good luck mama! I know it isn’t easy!


Kelsey said:

Hi! I had a NICU baby who was in the hospital for 5.5 months (preemie born at 23 weeks). We were told she would never exclusively breastfeed but my DD proved them all wrong and we are now exclusively breastfeeding at 10 months old (6 months adjusted)! We are still stuck with using a nipple shield though and I want to wean her off of it to make life easier… As of right now she won’t even try to latch without it, even when milk is coming, but she latches great with the shield. I want to get rid of it though to make it easier to nurse while out and about (what if I forget it?!) and to see if that would also help with her introduction to solids. She is also teething which makes things fun…her sharp little bottom teeth are already in and she’s working hard on her top teeth. Ouch! Any suggestions? Thanks!

Erin @ Latched on Love

Erin @ Latched on Love said:

Hi Kelsey! Wow! First off, congratulations for sticking to it- I know that was no small feat :) I feel you on the nipple shield- it was such a pain in the butt (picture me frantically trying to wipe dog hair off it as my baby is screaming- UGH!). So here’s what I did: every nursing session I tried just once on each side to get her to latch without the shield- it usually didn’t work. I told myself that’s ok it will happen eventually and put the nipple shield back on. Try not to stress about it. One day, she did it and just latched on when I was cleaning the nipple shield off and I wasn’t expecting it at all. From there, we did nursing sessions part without it and part with it until and little by little we didn’t need it at all. It was a marathon, not a sprint. Also, make sure she’s got a good latch- that’s the most important thing! Here is a great article with some additional tips:

Good luck mama! You’re doing great!


Jen said:

My little guy was in the nicu for 2 weeks due to being premature and but fully knowing how to suck and swallow. We try to breast feed every day but he won’t take my nipple without the shield and he becomes not interested quickly. I am pumping every 2-3 hours to try to get my supply up more. What tips do you have to maybe help me out a little?

Erin @ Latched on Love

Erin @ Latched on Love said:

Hi Jen, so sorry to hear that you are having some difficulties. Keep trying to offer without the nipple shield but don’t worry if it doesn’t work. Just put it on and continue nursing. Eventually he may just take it (even if it’s only for part of your nursing session). Here is a good resource about the nipple shield:

Also, I’d definitely recommend seeing a lactation consultant to make sure there isn’t any underlying problems. And finding a local La Leche League meeting would be helpful as well:

It will get better. It just takes time :) But you are doing great mama!

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