Like I mentioned in my first post, Almighty Tandem Breastfeeding, my son’s birth did not go as I had planned. When I went in to preterm labor a few days shy of 34 weeks everything I did not want to happen did. But during all the chaos, I just kept reminding myself I would still breastfeed my baby boy no matter what.
After a traumatic labor and birth, I woke up 45 minutes after an emergency c-section feeling everything and desperately wanting to see, hold and feed my beautiful baby. They wheeled me straight from the OR to the NICU to be with him. However, because we were not prepared, while I was still in surgery, they asked my husband if they could give our son a little formula. I was so upset they gave him formula so quickly. Then I started to doubt myself because who was I to starve my newborn baby if he was hungry and I was not there to feed him? Remind you, I was new to this mom-gig so I was not feeling confident. I came to the assumption that maybe they only asked my husband because I didn’t have enough milk yet. I didn’t read enough on breastfeeding during my pregnancy because I thought it would just come naturally and someone like my midwife would help me if needed. At the time, I was unaware that “Every mother produces breast milk that changes to meet the needs of her baby at different stages of life. Breast milk produced by the mother of a preemie has extra nutrients (calories, fat, protein, and vitamins) to help these tiny babies grow quickly. It contains live cells and antibodies to protect their immature immune systems from infections, and is easier for preemies to digest than formula” (breastfeedingbasics.com).
I told the nurse it was important my son get my milk and would be exclusively breastfed before leaving the hospital. She was supportive and said they could mix my colostrum and milk with some formula to start. The first thing I did when I got to my room was pump colostrum, which my husband took back down to the NICU right away. Most NICUs have protocols for certain ages to reach and consistently gain weight to be released by 36 weeks of gestational age. Each NICU situation is different, but weight goals for NICU babies are crucial for being able to go home. He did well breastfeeding but like a 34-weeker he would fall asleep during feedings. They said to make sure we knew he was eating enough he needed to be bottle fed/tube fed with my expressed milk and some added formula to supplement for him to gain weight faster. Again, I was unaware that “Research has demonstrated that breastfeeding is less stressful than bottle feeding because the baby can ‘pace’ the feeding, controlling the flow of milk and pausing when necessary. During breastfeeding, a baby stays warm, his heart rate remains regular, and oxygen levels stabilize (or even improve). Most healthy preterm babies begin breastfeeding between 32 and 34 weeks’ gestation but do not begin bottle feeding until at least 34 weeks’ gestation” (prematurity.org).
When my milk came in two days postpartum, I hadn’t been pumping every two hours like I should have been, so naturally I was in pain. I asked my nurse what to do and she said to put ice on them! ICE! Not, you should pump and encourage your supply. I was under so much stress, anxiety and trauma that when I did pump I would only get 1-2 ounces. “Preemie moms are under a great deal of stress, and not surprisingly, are more prone to depression than the mothers of full term babies. They aren’t able to build their milk supply by getting breast stimulation from a healthy full term baby, so they have to spend time hooked up to a machine, and even the most expensive breast pumps are not as effective as a baby nursing directly at the breast” (breastfeedingbasics.com).
Once my son was about a week old they finally let me try putting him to breast again. We started seeing the lactation consultant everyday; she was amazing, so positive and encouraging. She suggested that I use a nipple shield because my son’s mouth was little to completely latch on properly, and that it would help him with my heavy let down.
After two weeks and maybe two showers, we left the hospital, still using the nipple shield but on the right track to soon stop supplementing. By four weeks postpartum, my son was exclusively breastfeeding, ALL THE TIME. We were always sleeping or breastfeeding, so we stayed up in our room most of the time, which strained my relationships with my husband and stepdaughters. I had high level of postpartum OCD and anxiety, worried about all the germs in the world, and even many my stepdaughters were bringing home from school.
After educating and normalizing breastfeeding for our family (myself included!) I slowly became more open and relaxed about breastfeeding out and about. When we finally weaned from the nipple shield 3 months postpartum, I felt free. I breastfed my son for 14 challenging and amazing months before deciding to stop when I was three months pregnant with my daughter.
I am so grateful for NICUs and medical advances, and everyone’s story is unique.
Breastfeeding Preemies- More resources:
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