If your baby is diagnosed with a heart defect, he or she may not be able to breastfeed right away. However, you will need to begin pumping your breasts a few hours after birth to have milk available for your baby. Even if your baby is being fed through a tube after heart surgery, we can make sure he or she receives your breast milk. We also help you teach your baby to take a bottle of your milk before feeding directly at the breast.

Before your baby is born, Christina Berlett RN, BSN, IBCLC, a lactation specialist, will meet with you in the prenatal period to develop a plan for pumping and feeding your baby. Our lactation team provides our PICU mothers with optimal support and encouragement during their baby's hospitalization. After heart surgery, our lactation team will assist you in latching and feeding. When you are discharged to go home, our lactation team is available by phone, at support groups and at clinic visits.

Human milk is the ideal food for all infants, and it is even more important for babies with heart defects to receive the protective factors of mom's milk whenever possible. The first milk is colostrum, rich in nutrients that will help protect your baby against infections. If your baby is not able to ingest the colostrum due to being intubated, we are able to swab the colostrum in their mouth. Colostrum has been shown to reduce sepsis risk in preterm infants.

Human milk can be a lifesaving intervention for medically fragile infants. Breastfeeding can help with weight gain, energy conservation and oxygen consumption. Babies relax when they are skin to skin with their mothers, and their heart rate, respirations and oxygenation stabilize. Some moms worry breastfeeding is too much work on their baby's heart. It's actually easier for them to coordinate sucking, swallowing and breathing while breastfeeding than bottle feeding.

We are here to support you throughout your and your baby's stay here with us. Please feel free to contact Christina Berlett, our program coordinator for the Pediatric Cardiac Lactation Program by calling 443-915-2748 or emailing her at LactationSupport@umm.edu.