If you or your child needs hospital care, it’s natural for you to worry about whether your breastfeeding will be affected.
On top of your concern for the health of yourself or your child you may also have questions about breastfeeding, expressing milk and sometimes even weaning. Often it is just the thought of the unknown, that causes the most worry. It’s helpful to plan ahead.
Let the hospital staff know you are breastfeeding
Whether it is you, your baby or your older child who needs to go to hospital, tell your doctor that you are breastfeeding. Ask that you and your baby be kept together wherever possible. Hospitals usually have policies which allow mothers to keep breastfeeding. However, staff may need special permission if normal procedures need to be changed.
Unless your medical condition is urgent, it pays to take the time beforehand to make a plan with hospital staff that doesn't disrupt breastfeeding too much.
Make sure nursing staff know you are breastfeeding.
This should be written on the treatment form, for when shifts change.
If you need to, add it yourself when you sign the form.
Public hospital policies usually allow mothers and breastfed babies to stay together. However, where COVID-19 restrictions apply, policies may have changed. Check with your hospital what they allow. The cost of private hospitals will vary. It is wise to find out early how much you will need to pay. Check what costs are covered by your health fund, especially if you will need to have a private room to keep your baby with you.
The accommodation and facilities available depend on the individual hospital or ward. There may be rooms set aside or just a folding bed or a reclining chair, either in the ward or nearby. Ask if meals are provided or can be bought cheaply from a canteen or from the staff dining room. Is there family accommodation nearby?
Unless it is your baby who is the patient, you will probably need to supply everything your baby needs, including a pram or portable cot for sleeping. Take your breast pump, if you have one, along with milk containers, wipes and a hand towel.
If you live in a rural area, you may have some travel and accommodation costs reimbursed by government schemes to assist isolated families. Ask your local health or human services departments or a social worker at your hospital about the assistance available in your state or territory.
Preparing for baby’s surgery
A baby normally needs to fast for several hours before surgery so discuss with your anaesthetist when breastfeeding will be allowed.
It is easier if surgery is done as early as possible in the morning, preferably after your baby fasts at home. Wherever you are, it may be easier if someone else cares for your baby while you stay out of sight. Fasting can be stressful if your baby is used to sleeping with you, waking and feeding frequently during the night.
After baby's surgery
Check if you can be with your baby in recovery and how soon they can breastfeed. Toddlers coming out of an anaesthetic are often disorientated and upset. A breastfeed can be calming and soothing.
Some babies don’t want to feed for a while after surgery. Tell the hospital staff so that they can make sure that baby has enough fluids. Express to keep your breasts comfortable and keep up your supply until they are ready to breastfeed again. Ask the nursing staff for somewhere private to express if you’d prefer.
If your child has a drip or their treatment makes it difficult for them to move, you may have to try different feeding positions. Ask the nursing staff to help you position baby so that you can breastfeed without disturbing bandages or equipment. Breastfeeding can be a good way to keep older babies or toddlers calm and still and may reduce any need for sedatives.
If your baby is in isolation, ask the nursing staff to show you the procedures you need to follow so that you can stay with them.
If you need to leave baby
If you cannot stay with your baby all the time, you will need to leave some expressed breastmilk (EBM) for staff to feed them when you are not there. If your baby hasn’t had milk from a bottle before, you may like to ask for them to be fed your expressed breastmilk (EBM) by cup. This helps avoid possible problems when you return to breastfeeding that are sometimes caused by the faster flow rate and different type of sucking needed for the bottle.