A Mama's Breastfeeding Journey: Breastfeeding In NICU

Am I doing it right? I asked this question to myself so many times when I had my first daughter 8 years ago - I welcomed a beautiful 6lb baby and that was where my breastfeeding journey started with no problems.

Even as a child I always knew I would want to try breastfeeding my children it was something I always wanted to do and never felt uncomfortable about it, it was so natural to my body to do it and I’m so thankful I could do it with all my babies.

My First Breastfeeding Journey

Erin thrived on breastfeeding and I felt very lucky until I got hit with mastitis and all I could think in my head was breast was best, however, that’s not true breast or bottle, FED was best.

Although I fed through the mastitis, I also introduced a bottle to help with the storm that was crushing my body. My eldest would quite happily take a bottle or breast and thrived through both continuing until she was 7 months, when she finally decided she no longer wanted breast and would only take a bottle.

Breastfeeding For The Second Time

13 months exactly after my eldest was born, I welcomed my first and only son Buddy. He was an all-round easy baby but suddenly at 4 weeks old he was resuscitated as he had a severe case of bronchiolitis. All I kept thinking was would I be able to feed him with the nasal cannula? But thankfully we could, but he too also decided at 7 months he no longer wanted to be breastfed but still healthy boy!

5 years later I welcomed my second beautiful girl Martha, she was the biggest of the bunch and we were very blessed to have 3 healthy and happy babies, she was also very like the other 2 in that she fed easily and latched on easily.

Breastfeeding A Baby in NICU 

18 months after Martha we then had Agnes. Agnes was born with a congenital heart defect called tetralogy of fallout, and we found out at our 20 week scan she would require open heart surgery. Everything raced through my head at that point as it was so in the unknown, with 3 very healthy children at home. One of my first questions to our consultant was ‘will I be able to breastfeed our baby?’ as with a child with a heart defect (they must work harder and can struggle to breastfed as opposed to a bottle flowing easily), they couldn’t tell me if she would or wouldn’t be able to and that broke my heart!

I always found with the other three I bonded so well whilst breastfeeding and it was our time to be together to be in that moment. I’m completely aware it’s not for everybody and not everyone can breastfeed either, but for me I felt in that moment I had failed, but there were options, there was expressing and if needs be there was formula!

She arrived 9 months ago and was rushed straight to the NICU and I didn’t get to see her for 1 hour; that felt like an eternity! As soon as I held her I knew in my heart I was going to be able to feed her, so we attempted and she latched on for the first time and was so content along even in the noise and chaos she was happy - I was happy nothing else in that moment mattered to me, I had my baby and she had me!

Agnes spent 10 days in the NICU and got stronger daily, thankfully she didn’t have to have emergency surgery and we continued to breastfeed. The hardest part whilst staying in hospital was I never wanted to leave her, but I knew I had to eat to keep my supply up; I had bottles of water everywhere and I had LOTS OF SNACKS. She gained weight beautifully up until her surgery at 6 months old (14-01-2020) where she underwent open heart surgery and that’s the moment we began to struggle as she was nil by mouth for 48 hours and then NG tube fed breast milk for 10 days. I expressed day in and day out, to make sure my supply was up and it didn’t drop so when I could finally feed her it was there, it was tough making sure I was also eating to keep my supply high and drinking plenty - I ate all the oat biscuits-  very healthy food but regardless of my best efforts my milk supply kept dropping and that I have no doubt was due to complete exhaustion!

After 3 children EBF (exclusively breastfed for the 6months +) I never had to express on a time schedule once, so this was challenging, but I did it and she got stronger every day! The day came when we could finally breastfeed and it hurt, she had no idea what to do - she had forgotten -  and I felt like giving up, truly it was painful and it broke my heart but we powered through and 3 days later we were back just the two of us feeding.

In that moment, it meant everything to me it wasn’t so much about her having to have an alternative if we couldn’t breastfeed, it was about our bond and our time; nothing can ever compare to that. My milk gradually increased over the following days which was a relief, we’ve had a lot of hiccups along the way in regards to her medication and medical problems and it’s affected her breastfeeding and my supply but we persevered. She still wants her breast milk from me for now and for that I’ll always be grateful!


One thing I wish I had done though is given myself so much more grace and time to not pressure myself to be this perfect person and Mum. Breastfeeding hurts a lot, even though all the above is very positive here’s the thing.... when you first start or when you have to start up again it’s rare babies come out latching perfectly and It takes a time to get the hang of it and you learn together! It doesn’t happen overnight it can take weeks, months even, and that’s okay I promise we are all here for you. Sometimes it’s helpful to find a breastfeeding support group where you can ask for help or share experiences with others.

Babies mouths are all different sizes, and our boobs are all different shapes and sizes - and once engorgement hits, it changes things up again and well that’s a whole other story - but until we figure it out together, we will most likely experience some pain from the process. If you have the strength to power through the pain you figure it out together. And if you continue to find it hard YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

As much as I say it was ‘easy’, it’s hard and when the hormones hit and emotions are running wild we can be irrational, irritable, happy, sad, angry all at once. In my case incredibly pissed off, because my partner has useless nipples (haha!) all the while mine were doing the hard work.

My breastfeeding journey in 8 years has had many ups and downs, but ultimately FED IS BEST. Whether that’s bottle or breast; do YOU Mumma’s because you are what makes your baby happy! 

Francesca x

Instagram: @francescalouisecooney

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