Breastfeeding Evolution amidst the NICU Technology
I love babies. I love being a nurse.
I love all the evolution of technology through which I have practiced. I love how I have had to continually evolve myself. I love helping mothers help themselves, advocating for them and their infants, facilitate when needed to support them making their own choices and watch as they evolve….. becoming the best mother they can be!
I know I haven’t blogged lately and it is because I have been having a bit of a rough transition… my latest evolution… in my new NICU job. Orientation is somewhat difficult for me. I had previously been arriving at work already at the top of my game (for the last 25 years or so) and I have now found myself a student…. every. single. day. It is almost like I have gone to a totally new facility! EVERYTHING seems new or different. All new equipment/monitors/procedures/policies/protocols/doctors/practitioners/and staff.
The babies are the same. Since some are much more preterm than we have cared for in the past… their issues are more complex. Some are the same as we have always cared for, but with neonatologists now on board, the approach to the care of these babies is evolving.
I am unlearning some of what I have always known and relearning things in new ways.
I was able to prepare and submit the mission statement and policy on Breastfeeding for our NICU population. The neo’s are extremely awesome on breastfeeding or breastmilk feeding promotion and support! So we have a very good start for breastfeeding support in our new unit. Excellent actually! I am happy to report that since opening our unit, most of the babies thus far have had a total exclusive diet of breastmilk or fortified breastmilk! I think that is fabulous! There have been some moms who after discussion and encouragement to provide breastmilk, wished to formula feed and their choice was supported without further discussion or question. My new co-workers have been very professional about that. There were a few who provided colostrum initially and then decided not to continue. This was also supported.
Coming from my previously comfortable world of lactation in the full term nursery, I find myself on a journey to find a balance between technology and nature…… precision, absolutes and finite accuracy vs the inconsistency, variables, and imprecise intake of an infant at the breast. We are calculating daily the actual fluid and kcal energy intake of each baby and comparing that with the kcal/fluid requirement per kilogram of weight. Changes are then made accordingly. Most of the preterm population is unable to take in their required fluid and caloric needs solely by mouth. Most have parenteral nutrition in the form of a glucose/ Amino Acid protein and Lipid (fats) at first by a central line or an IV (TPN) and gradually switch over to taking all their requirement by their GI system (Enteral). They don’t have the stamina to take it by sucking/drinking and they require a nasogastric (NG) tube so the remainder of food can go in by gravity or feeding pump (gavage feeding).
I actually love learning all this. I thrive on having a detailed clear clinical picture of my patient. I am very detail oriented which is a good thing. Because of this precision, the measurements and the calculations—> actual breastFEEDING is not often seen until much later in the game. I understand this. I do. I want so much to be very helpful at transitioning to full feeds at the breast. I have to wrap my head around it each time (all the while being a student in all other aspects of the infant’s care) researching how to best advise each mother. We range from visits every other feeding to visits once or twice a day. Skin to skin is the most powerful tool I can use when faced with limited exposure or opportunity. Sometimes when the mom is arriving for my patient, I’m involved in other things and unavailable to do anything other than providing some private skin to skin time. Encouraging any licking, suckling or other feeding behaviors at the breast during gavage feeds is also good. When the baby gets more and more ready to take oral feeds… what I’ve seen so far is that they are already preferenced to the bottle nipple. The weight gain has been established, the precision of measurement seems to have become slightly less rigid. It seems that there is adequate physician support to encourage full feeds at the breast. There are hundreds of experts out there who have gone thru this, and reorganized policy and procedure to protect breastfeeding in the NICU.
I have to evolve myself again and re-learn more about transitioning to feeds at the breast before the bottle becomes a primary feeding implement. Once I can find my footing- I hope to be strong and confident enough to start teaching moms and my co-workers.
Breastfeeding is NOT an exact science!
I need to figure out when the exact science of Neonatology can accept that….
into the feeding plan for each individual baby!