Feeding your baby during a hospital admission

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The prospect of coming into hospital is an emotional time if you have a young baby. You may feel more anxious about your baby than yourself and have concerns about how to continue breastfeeding. Support from family and friends are important to minimise separation from your baby.

Will my baby be able to stay with me?
You will be admitted to the ward that offers specialist care appropriate to your illness. Unless you are admitted to the postnatal ward your baby will be welcome to visit you for feeds, but will be
unable to stay. A family member or friend must be available to look after your baby at all times. Breast pumps, bottle sterilising equipment, formula milk, cots and changing facilities will not be available. To minimise risk of infection please discourage staff and other patients from holding or caring for your baby and we ask that you are sensitive to the needs of other patients if your baby is unsettled.

Can continuing to breastfeed help my recovery?
Yes. Research suggests that breastfeeding mothers sleep more, have an enhanced immune system and a more positive mood. Hormones produced during breastfeeding are also known to increase the feeling of well-being and reduce stress. Breastfeeding mothers are known to be less depressed, have fewer infections and lower levels of tiredness and anxiety.

Is medication safe when I’m breastfeeding?
It is important you tell your doctor you are breastfeeding. They can speak to the specialist pharmacist for Maternity to check the safety of your medication. Most medications only pass into your breast milk in small amounts and/or are poorly absorbed by your baby. This means there are very few medications that you cannot take when you are breastfeeding. A good resource is the Breastfeeding Network (see reference link).

How can I ‘protect my baby’ from my illness?
Very few maternal illnesses require you to stop breastfeeding. If you are admitted with an infection it is particularly beneficial for you to continue to breastfeed; your body’s first response to illness is to make specifically designed antibodies that pass into your breast milk to protect your baby. By the time you start to feel ill your baby is already receiving protection against your infection.

How can I prepare for my hospital admission?
If your admission is planned it is useful to consider your goals for breastfeeding in relation to your baby’s age, the expected length of your stay and the help available from family and friends. If you
anticipate that at any time you will be unable to breastfeed your baby while you are in hospital, you may consider expressing and storing breast milk prior to your admission. A discussion with your medical team about the medications they are likely to give you would be helpful, to ensure their safety in breastfeeding, or to discuss alternatives.

If I am unable or choose not to breastfeed how often should I express my milk?
It is recommended that you express your milk as often as your baby normally feeds and when you feel particularly full or uncomfortable. This will enable you to maintain your milk supply ready for when you resume breastfeeding and prevent complications. Your family or friend will need to bring in your pump/expressing equipment and take them home to sterilise. There may be a hospital breast pump available in an emergency.

How can I store my expressed breast milk in hospital?
Your expressed breast milk should be given to your baby or taken home within 5 hours in an insulated freezer bag with an ice pack to keep it cool.

When can I start breastfeeding after surgery?
If you require a general anaesthetic please tell the anaesthetist that you are breastfeeding. As soon as you are awake, alert and able to breastfeed your baby it is usually safe to do so as the drug does not remain in breast milk long. You should continue to express your milk to your maintain supply. It may be useful to ask your health professional how you will expect to feel after surgery. Knowing what to expect will help you decide how you want to manage breastfeeding afterwards.

Montgomery, A & Hale, T. (2012) Breastfeeding Medicine. Association of Breastfeeding Medicine Clinical Protocol #15: Analgesia and Anaesthesia for the Breastfeeding Mother. 7 (6) pp 547-553. https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/detailedinformation/drugs-in-breastmilk/

Infant Feeding Lead Midwife 01908996402