Babies who need hospitalization

Can I breastfeed if my baby has to go to hospital?

If a baby has to go to hospital, breastfeeding can help in many ways. It can protect the baby from infections in the hospital, speed healing, provide pain relief, calm the baby, and empower mothers. If possible, mothers should continue to breastfeed their hospitalized baby unless there is a specific reason not to. If separation from the baby prevents breastfeeding, mothers should express regularly. This maintains the milk supply and provides milk for the baby. Mothers whose babies have been admitted to hospital report many barriers to breastfeeding. If a baby is hospitalized, mothers should ask what breastfeeding support is available.

A) Benefits of continuing to breastfeed while the baby is hospitalized

Having a baby admitted to hospital can be difficult for both the baby and the family. Breastfeeding can help in many ways. It can:

  • Provide optimum nutrition that is easy to digest. 
  • Prevent and fight infection and speed healing.
  • Protect the baby from other infections that may be present in the hospital environment.
  • Provide pain relief (Reece-Stremtan 2016).
  • Offer a safe and known activity that can calm the baby.
  • Empower and calm mothers.

B) The effect of hospitalization on breastfeeding

Hospitalization has been shown to reduce breastfeeding rates (Varma 2018). One study (Heilbronner 2017) found that about half of breastfeeding mothers (43 of 84) whose babies were admitted to hospital for a chest infection called bronchiolitis reported a reduction in breastfeeding. The more severe the baby's illness, the less likely mothers were to continue breastfeeding.

Reasons for reduced breastfeeding when children are hospitalized include (Hookway 2021):

  • Lack of support and advice on how to continue breastfeeding during the hospital stay
  • The child's inability to breastfeed
  • Limited availability of breast pumps
  • The introduction of infant formula and bottles
  • Mothers needing to care for other children or travel long travel distances
  • Inadequate access to overnight stays

 

C) Continuing to breastfeed while in hospital

Consider the following if your baby is hospitalized:

  • Discuss your situation with your health-care providers and continue to breastfeed unless there is a specific reason not to do so.
  • Avoid unnecessary separation from your baby.
  • Express regularly to maintain your milk supply and provide milk for your baby if:
    • Your baby does not breastfeed effectively.
    • Your baby cannot breastfeed.
    • You are separated from the baby.
  • Ask what breastfeeding support is available to you. These may include:

References

Heilbronner C, Roy E, Hadchouel A, et al. Breastfeeding disruption during hospitalisation for bronchiolitis in children: a telephone survey. BMJ Paediatrics Open 2017;1:e000158
 
Hookway L, Lewis J, Brown A. The challenges of medically complex breastfed children and their families: A systematic review. Matern Child Nutr. 2021 May 6:e13182

Reece-Stremtan S, Gray L. ABM Clinical Protocol #23: Nonpharmacological Management of Procedure-Related Pain in the Breastfeeding Infant, Revised 2016. Breastfeed Med. 2016 Nov;11:425-429. Epub 2016 Sep 13
 
Spatz DL. SPN Position Statement: The Role of Pediatric Nurses in the Promotion and Protection of Human Milk and Breastfeeding. J Pediatr Nurs. 2017 Nov - Dec;37:136-139
 
Varma S, Bartlett EL, Nam L, et al. Use of Breast Milk and Other Feeding Practices Following Gastrointestinal Surgery in Infants. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2018 Aug 16