Lack of Breastmilk Sent My Newborn to the NICU

Image via Sharon Rowley

When I gave birth to my first son, like many new moms, I was very excited to begin the bonding process while breastfeeding him. So not long after delivery, I had him latch on to my breast to nurse, believing that I was doing the best thing for my baby. But since I was a new mom, I wasn't very familiar with what it would actually feel like to breastfeed. I had no idea of the sensation that you would have when your milk was being “let down.” I didn't yet know those joyful slurping noises a baby makes while he's feeding, and I fully believed everything I had read, and I been told … that my baby would get all that he needed from my breastmilk right away — first colostrum, but then on to the good stuff!

Throughout my time in the hospital, I regularly allowed my son to latch onto each breast and drink until it seemed he had his fill. Was he fussy at all? Sure, at times. But overall, he seemed content, and I wasn't at all nervous when he cried or fussed. I even remember the lactation consultant making a regular stop by my room at one point, and she watched me nurse and gave me the thumbs up that I was doing everything right.

{ MORE: Breastfeeding: The Importance of Getting the Proper Latch and Maintaining It }

Since I had delivered my son by cesarean section, I had a slightly prolonged hospital stay, and on day three, when I woke up, I could tell that something didn't seem right with my little baby. He was agitated, and when I tried to feed him, he would latch on, suck, cry, and then give up in frustration. The nurse stopped by to check on me, and she noticed right away that something was wrong. And swoosh, in a moment, my little baby was whisked away from me and rushed down to the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). Because, at this point, he had gotten a fever! 

Our initial fears were that perhaps Kyle (my baby) had picked up some sort of bacterial infection either during delivery or in the hospital. But what the doctors and nurses quickly realized once he was given a bottle of formula was that this little guy was dehydrated! My milk had not come in yet, even on day three, and he was not getting what he needed to thrive. 

Now, when your baby is whisked away to the NICU with a fever, he is checked in there for four days (hospital policy), as they continue to poke and prod and run all kinds of tests just to make sure that there's nothing else going on. Fortunately for us, dehydration was all that it was, and once he was given that first bottle, he never again ran a fever as a newborn. But those four days of spending the night with him in the NICU were incredibly emotional for a new mom with raging hormones!

During our time in the NICU, my son greedily consumed his bottles of formula every few hours, after first trying to nurse at my breast. And it wasn't until day seven that I really realized what it felt like to have your milk come in. (Um … ow!) Once I was producing breastmilk, we switched exclusively over to breastfeeding. (And, no, there were no issues of “nipple confusion,” which I had feared!)


So, 16 months later, when I gave birth to my second son, Spencer, I immediately put my son to my breast and had him latch on to nurse, but I chased each breastfeeding session with a bottle of formula to make sure he was getting everything he needed. I continued to do this for the first seven days or until I knew for sure that my body was producing breastmilk again. (And, yes, I had to advocate for my decision with the maternity nurses, who insisted that I didn't need to offer a bottle if I was breastfeeding. But I stuck to my guns!) I had the opportunity to do it again 16 months later when my third son, Jack, was born.

{ MORE: Tips for Simultaneous Breast Milk and Formula Feeding }

So what I want you to know is this: Not every mom is the same, and not everyone's milk comes in immediately. If you feel that the right decision for you is to supplement formula along with your breastmilk until you feel comfortable and know for sure that your body is producing what your baby needs, I say go for it! 

Did you have breastfeeding challenges? 

What do you think?

Lack of Breastmilk Sent My Newborn to the NICU

My name is Sharon and I am the busy Mom of six children ages 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, and 8. People often ask me "How do you do it?" I tell them that my key to success lies in planning ahead, with a whole lot of creativity and organization thrown in! ... More

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  1. Yen says:

    If only I’ve read this article for my 1st born she wouldn’t have gotten readmitted into the hospital with a 21.8 bilirubin. Broke my heart to see her skin dry under the bili light with an iv hooked up to her arm at 4 days old. My milk didn’t come in so her bilirubin sky rocket. I didn’t know and the lactation nurses kept assuring me that my body was producing enough for her and that the first few days newborns doesn’t require much so dont supplement with formula. With my 2nd I tried to breastfeed again for the first two days then realizing that my baby was turning a bit yellow I demanded formula right away. His bilirubin was slowly rising and again nurses kept trying to steer me away from formula but I stuck to my gut feelings and demanded those bottles. After the 7th or 8th day for both pregnancies that’s when my milk really came in and that’s when I switched to exclusivly breastfeeding. No nipple confusion with both kids.

  2. CM says:

    Unfortunately in the U.S. if you have a vaginal delivery you’re out of the hospital in 48 hours or less. That does not give enough time to get all the help needed in breastfeeding especially if you have a complicated delivery. In my case I had a lot of tearing and needed lots of recovery time. Then when my baby came to nurse she sucked so hard that my nipples bled and I couldn’t feed her for a few days. Before I knew it I was sent home. I did not get enough help from the lactation consultants. I had to pump my milk at home the first 3-4 days so my nipples could heal and supplement with formula. Then I had awful cramping and a bladder infection that sent me to the emergency room on day 5. Right after that I met with a lactation consultant and she really tried to help me. My baby was underweight so we had to give her formula. My breastmilk came in but it was never enough even with the help of the lactation consultant for 2 months. I was pumping 8 times a day, trying fenugreek supplements, etc. Even she could not figure it out.
    So basically I now give her the little breastmilk that I do have but the majority of what she gets is formula. 6 months late I am feeling less guilty than before about it. I just hope the little she gets is helping.

    • Diana says:

      Christine – you’re doing the very best that you can for your baby girl’s survival…even a little bit of breastmilk counts (even if it’s a little) while you supplement with formula and definitely making a difference. No one ever tells you how hard breastfeeding will be once you deliver your baby, especially if you have any complications. I had a c-section and had such a hard time nursing because of the pain I was in. Reading everyone’s experience really helped me push through and stay positive. Happy pumping and keep up the great work…every drop of breastmilk she takes in is beneficial, even if it’s a little 😉

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