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Moms in NICU may lack privacy for feeding newborns


Many mothers of newborns in NICUs have difficulty finding private, quiet places in the hospital to express milk, according to a study.

If it causes mothers to miss feedings or makes them too timid to express milk, the lack of privacy poses a significant health risk for low-weight premature newborns because milk enriched with the mother’s antibodies helps ward off infection and gastrointestinal problems, noted researchers with the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing at Case Western Reserve University.

“The meaning of privacy might differ for mothers and the hospital,” Donna Dowling, RN, PhD, the study’s lead researcher, said in a news release.

The researchers surveyed 40 new mothers, 15 in multiple-bed NICU rooms and 25 in single-family rooms.

Dowling, a Case Western Reserve professor and an advocate for breast-feeding, expected mothers in the single-family NICUs would find the process easier, quieter and more private than those in multi-family units.

Instead, the new moms overwhelmingly reported they would rather express breast milk at home, citing privacy and comfort concerns.

New mothers need to express milk eight to 10 times daily for 15 to 20 minutes in a newborn’s first weeks, and six to eight times a day to maintain the milk supply after that, according to information in the news release.

The mothers said possible interruptions while pumping kept them from starting pumping for fear of missing progress reports during a doctor’s rounds. Missing the meeting might mean waiting hours before being able to meet with the doctor again. The respondents also felt uncomfortable expressing milk in front of the doctor or groups of doctors making rounds, Dowling reported.

Of the 40 mothers, 75% said before giving birth that they planned to breast-feed. But when their babies were discharged, only 45% were feeding their babies with breast milk exclusively.

Interruptions and privacy were not the only concerns. Mothers with newborns in the NICU who had to juggle family, home and work responsibilities also struggled to meet their pre-birth aspirations to breast-feed their newborns exclusively.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends feeding babies breast milk exclusively for the first six months of life, with continued breast-feeding until at least 12 months.

The study appeared in the December issue of the journal Advances in Neonatal Care. The study abstract is available at


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