Breastfeeding a Preemie: My Journey

{I'm still working on the second part of Greta's birth story, so today I am going to share a bit of my journey towards breastfeeding.}

This post was sparked by the fact that yesterday I left Greta with Matt while I went for a haircut and she finally took a bottle again with no problem - which with the holidays fast approaching makes me happy, because a) that means I can enjoy a cup of cheer (or two) without having to worry and b) I can maybe get some Christmas shopping done without a baby in tow (don't get me wrong I enjoy every minute with my girl - but sometimes it is faster to get things done when I don't have her with me). It's funny to say that I am happy for her to take a bottle because I worked so hard for her to exclusively breastfeed - but it's good to have the option when it's needed.

I think for some (maybe even most) that even though breastfeeding is a suppose to be an "instinct" it seems that I hear an increasing number of mom's talking about their difficulties with breastfeeding.  Now, add a baby that is 10 weeks early who doesn't have the ability yet to breathe and suckle at the same time and a mother's body who is not yet prepared for this process to begin - then the work and dedication to make breastfeeding possible is tough! Now I'm not not trying to make it sound like my journey to breastfeeding was far more difficult than any other mother (in the end when she was actually ready it was quite easy), I'm just sharing with you what it took to get where we are today.

I never actually "met" Greta, other than in a foggy haze post-section and through pictures that my husband showed me, until a day and a half after giving birth.  I never got to hold her or physically see her to help stimulate the hormones that would help my milk come in so I felt that I had missed out on a critical moment that would help me with my ability to breastfeed and was so worried that we would have to formula-feed her.  On the maternity ward of the hospital where I sent for my recovery there was no nurse questioned me about whether I had planned to breastfeed, actually other than continually checking my blood pressure I was pretty much just left alone. It wasn't until I finally made it to Greta's bedside in the NICU that discussions of breastfeeding occurred, as one of the first question I was asked was whether I had any pumped milk for her with me.  Which I did not because no one had yet to bring a pump to my room or even discuss the possibility with me.  I responded no, and they explained to me that she has currently been receiving donor breast milk but they suggestion that as soon as I'm ready that any drop of my milk would be best.  I was totally on board - I knew that two things that were going to help her get strong quickly were one, lots of skin-to-skin and breast milk as I knew my body would produce what she needed. So that afternoon when I returned to my room I asked the nurse if I could have a pump to start pumping. So she wheeled in this ancient looking machine, handed me a bag full of tubes, bottles, and little pieces of plastic and then LEFT.  So there I sat and new mom, not feeling 100% sitting in a hospital bed with a machine and a bag of plastic parts with no instructions expected to know what to do.  I was frustrated, but I opened the bag put the things together and away I went.  I hoped I knew what to do (man I grew up on dairy farm and had milked a cow or two in my day..bad joke?!) . What I didn't know were the settings on the machine were set to high so on the cups went and holy man the suction brought me to tears, but I sat there for 10 minutes, sucked it up and got a few drops from each side. Three hours later, I didn't again but played around with some knobs and found the suction could be reduced and increase. Man, it would have been nice if the nurse gave me some instructions! 

From there I pumped diligently every 3 hours day and night. But it seemed that no matter how diligent I was my milk supply stay low (although I was still able to meet the demands of Greta't tiny stomach so I guess my body knew how much was needed?). I remember one mom bringing her pumped milk in one morning and she had a bag full of containers, there was me with 4 containers not even half full each, maybe 4oz combined, and she was getting 4oz a pump! I was getting discouraged, I was trying so hard, stressed out, and not sleeping great because I was pumping every 3 hours plus on top of that I had developed a milk blister. So I met with a lactation consultant and was prescribed Domperidone (not Dom Perignon which is what I always referred to it as -- the latter would have at least made me more relaxed!) which is a medication to help increase milk supply. It started to help, but the side effect was it gave me headaches so I decided to take half a dose of the prescription and used Fenugreek, a herbal remedy for lactation, as well. I made lactation cookies, ate oatmeal like it was going out of style and water, water, and more water.  Eventually, as we got closer to discharge my supply increased.  

The next challenge, was the latch.  At around 34 weeks we started trying Greta at the breast, as she was doing great on the bottles of pumped milk. Some days she did ok, others it was hard to get a latch so it was suggested by a nurse that we purchase a nipple shield.  We did and it help a lot! Soon we were breastfeed for every feed I was at the hospital for. So when we were discharged we were advised to have her breastfeed 4 times a day max and the rest should be done by bottle as to not tire her to fast.  So I continued to pump, Matt would feed her the bottles while I pumped and the next feed I would breastfeed. It was exhausting, I was so sick of pumping -- I just wanted to strictly breastfeed, especially since I found that due to the nipple shield my supply was decreasing but every attempt without the shied seemed to fail.  I was hoping the local health nurse would help me in my home with some tips to decrease the use of shield but when I contacted her she directed me to a breastfeeding clinic in the city. Now we were FINALLY home after nearly two months spent driving daily to the city to be with Greta and she expected me to pack up my tiny little one and make a trek to the city yet again - give me a break, that is last thing I wanted to do (I understand that the local public health nurse is busy but I wish they would have considered what it meant to drive to the city for assistance).  So I hit the internet, watched videos on getting the perfect latch, read articles and we prevailed around 38 weeks - she just seemed to get it! I was so happy at this point. We were finally exclusively breastfeeding and I didn't want to see a pump again for a while! 

I thought we were right were we wanted to be, exclusively breastfeed but able to take a bottle when needed.  That was until it came time for here to take a bottle again - and she refused - cried for hour refusing the bottle. As a friend of mine put it; why would she want something hard, plastic and that gets cold when she can nuzzle into something warm, soft and smells like you.  I guess I can't blame her but only wanting to breastfeed when we worked so hard for it! I'd rather her refuse the bottle than not breastfeed at all, but am also happy be are back to her taking a bottle for a little bit of freedom after our long journey too!

Have a great weekend! I hope this is not too long and boring for those who stop to read!

Greta's Birth Story (Part I)

I briefly touched on my birth experience in this post, but I thought a longer and more detailed post was in order before I forget all the details of the 5-day ordeal. I'm sorry for such a long post!

First I want to note that I had a great pregnancy up until this point, had a few days of mornings sickness and some fatigue in the beginning but otherwise it was great. I complete all my required schoolwork for the term and had just finished the 4th week of an 8 week fieldwork placement when this all happened.

Last bump photo (taken at 27 weeks)

Saturday, June 1st

I was awoken suddenly, early in the morning (around 3am) by a sharp pain in my upper abdominal area right below the sternum.  It was a weird pain, it lingered for a bit and subsided only to come back a little stronger.  I jogged my brain to remember what I had eaten the evening before thinking that it was heartburn.  I had never experienced heartburn in my life, but knew it was a common in pregnancy - especially in the last trimester (I was going to be 30 weeks on Tuesday). So I chalked it up to "heartburn" and had a pretty uncomfortable sleep - telling myself I would head to town for some tums in the morning. I really didn't feel well for most of the day, I rested on the couch for most of the morning and then started to feel a bit better after lunch, so I headed to the store.  I had a baby shower for a friend on the Sunday that I needed to provide a dessert for so I got some things that I needed for that and picked up some Tums. I came home took some tums and prepared the dessert as well as started some supper for the evening and was generally feeling better. "Wow" I said to my husband, "heartburn is not fun, I never knew if could be this bad". We laughed, ate supper, and settled on the couch for the evening.  Then around 8pm the pain came back this time along with a wicked headache. I popped a Tylenol and then called my mom.  I filled my mom in on the details and while on the phone with her the pain became extremely intense, nearly unbearable.  My mom suggested that I call Health Links (a local resource that connects you with a Registered Nurse to help with decisions on what care you may require). I told the nurse on the line my spiel, nearly 30 weeks pregnant, on and off pain in upper abdomen below sternum that I would rate a 7-8 at times, swollen feet (don't all pregnant women?!) and answered all her questions, by this point I was actually feeling almost 100% better.
But this was her advice: "take a baby aspirin and call the ambulance ASAP."
Me: "What?!" Yes, that was my response. "you know what..since the beginning of our conversation the pain has subsided substantially"
The nurse then asked, "are you going to take my advice?"
I responded, "well truthfully, I'm not going to call the ambulance. Like I said, I'm feeling much better but if the pain returns I will definitely have my husband drive me to the ER."
Nurse, "so your not taking my advice?"
Me: "No, not at this time."
Nurse: "Ok, but that is my advice."
I hung up the phone, my husband looked at me puzzled and asked what she said, "I think she thought I was having a heart attack! I'm not having a heart attack! The pain is gone now, I'm ready for bed".  My husband questioned me again and said it was up to me, hospital or no hospital, "no hospital" I responded and off we went to bed.
(Note: I know your probably shaking your head at me at this point and I don't blame you.  If I learned anything from my experience it is trust the professionals.  I figured I knew my body -- but now realize I may have been in denial - and at this point the pain had subsided - and didn't want to be over dramatic by heading to the ER. I do wish that the nurse had explained to me WHY she was advising me to call the ambulance, I may have been more inclined to follow her advice if she explained what she thought was going on - she gave no explanation and as I said from her advice I assumed she miss understood where I describing the pain.)

Sunday, June 2

I woke up feeling fine! I had slept well and had no pain. I had sent my friend a text before I went to bed saying I may not make the shower as I wasn't feeling great so I texted her again telling her I would make it and was feeling better.  So my husband and I headed to my parents (the shower was near their home) and I went off to the shower that afternoon. All my friends were there and of course being pregnant everyone asks how you are, I explained my previous 24 hours to most, laughing it off. Most agreed that I looked fine - "but wow your feet are swollen!". After the baby shower, we had supper at my parents and then prepared to head home.  Before leaving though, my mom said that she thought my face was really swollen and even my arms a bit, well I am pregnant mom!
"I don't know, you look so pale too" my mom stated.
"Well, I feel fine right now," I kissed her goodbye and we headed home.
Got home and went to bed.

Monday, June 3

I was again awoken around 2 am, this time the pain was extremely intense.  I went to the washroom and was so dizzy.  When I went back to the bedroom, picked up my iPhone.
I googled my symptoms: swollen feet, upper abdominal pain, headache, dizziness while pregnant.
All my results: PRE-ECLAMPSIA/ECLAMPSIA. (insert panic)
Immediately I woke Matt and said "we need to go to the hospital! I don't care if maybe I'm self-diagnosing and being dramatic but we are going".  We hopped in the truck and made the 30 minute drive to the closest hospital - we arrived around 3 am.
Luckily, there was no one else in the waiting room. I was immediately triaged by the nurse. She took my blood pressure: 150/94. Oh no! I thought it is pre-eclampsia (as a high blood pressure was the link to all the other symptoms). The nurse said nothing, didn't even seemed phased my high BP and sent me to sit with my husband until I'm called.
We waited a few minutes and then we were placed in a ER bed, a nurse checked my stats again, asked me a few questions and then we waited for the doctor.  The nurse and doctor came in about 20 minutes later (it was actually a doctor I had had at another ER visit).
Dr: "So I hear your having some upper abdominal pain ... explain the pain ...where exactly..."
I answered his questions pointing to just under my sternum radiating right and sometimes into the back, can become a 7-8.
Dr: "Well I think we are looking at a case of gallstones - which is very common in pregnancy..either that or you are having a hairy baby" he and the nurse laugh.
Me: "oh really? Gallstones?" (seriously, like I said I had seen this doctor before (not during pregnancy) -- and his answer that time was gallstones/kidney stone then too which was wrong...really Dr..really I'm thinking)
Dr. "Ya, very common, just hang tight I'll be back"...then as he turns to leave he takes a look to the monitors.."HOLY! IS THAT YOUR BLOOD PRESSURE?!" (yep, guys -- aloud with a surprised look -- great bedside manner and way to make me panic even more!)
Me: "Um, yep" (while I'm still think it's gallstones now doc?!)
He excuses himself.  I can hear him talking to the nurse outside the curtain and hear the words, pre-eclampsia, call obstetrical triage. I turn to Matt, "guess I'm not over dramatic eh? I hope our girl is ok."
The doctor returns, and said that he was sending us to another hospital's obstetrical triage - they are aware we are on route and sent us on our way. Yes, by ourselves - not in an ambulance (people are always perturbed by this -- as am I) so at this point I'm worried but not panicked that out situation is super critical

It was early morning so traffic was light we arrived at the obstetrical triage within 15 minutes. We do all the paperwork, I'm admitted and placed in a triage bed.  A nurse says they will need a urine sample at some point and says she'll leave the cup in the washroom, and a doctor should be with me shortly.  I have to say we waited longer than I would have liked but finally an Intern arrived (*really from this point I'm a little iffy on all the details and order of events). Asked some questions, took my BP, ordered bloodwork.

He then returned and explained, that they believe that what I was experiencing, was HELLP syndrome - which stands for hemolysis, elevated liver enzymes and a low platelet count. It's a form of eclampsia that often comes on suddenly and with no previous pre-eclamptic symptoms or concerns.

Then he continues to explain, that if this is in fact what is happening -- the only treatment for this condition is to deliver the baby as soon as possible.

My mind raced, my heart raced, and I looked to Matt thinking is this really happening?

I'll be back later this week with Part II. From here there are a roller coaster of emotions that come back with reminiscing and I think I might find it hard to write, but hope to finish it up!

Weekend Snapshots

I nearly always have my phone around so I tend to snap a lot of our photos with it and rarely ever pick up my dSLR as much as I should.  This weekend I put down the iPhone (not only to not take photos with it, but to step away from social media), snuggled with my family and captured a few sweet moments. 

top: Matt and Greta snuggling (and lots of bubbles & drool!)
bottom: what a doll! | Milka{I think she often feels snubbed lately and I  feel so bad} | always adoring Daddy

How was your weekend? Do you find yourself absorbed too often in social media? 

Happy Friday!

It's Friday (not that mean too much to me now that I'm a mom..)!

I'm looking forward to the weekend to have Matt home with us where we will enjoy a family breakfast of pfannkuchen (german pancakes), maybe do a bit of holiday decorating and have a good family snuggle as I think it is going to be a bit cooler this weekend.  I also have plans to wrap and package up the gifts that need to head overseas to Matt's family for Christmas...I'm so excited that I'm organized early this year and that they will make it on time, maybe even early..go me!

I was planning on doing a longer post for today, but then I got a little distracted last night with photoshop (which I just installed) and created an new header for the blog! What do you think?!  I'm working on a few other elements to add to the blog and have planned a few posts that you can look out for in the coming weeks.  I'm hoping to sit down to write out Greta's birth story and explain a bit more what happened that led to her being born premature.  I expect it will be broken up into a couple post - that is if I can bring myself to write it out.

I'll leave you with a photo out of little angel from our Christmas photo shoot! I know I'm biased but she really is the cutest thing EVER!

Hope you all have a great weekend!

Dreaming of Naptime

First off, I have to say that we are lucky we have a five month old (who is technically only three months gestation) that sleeps through the night (7:30pm to 5:30am then back down till 7:30am)! But....I guess maybe if you get lucky with nights you don't get naps?!

How To Be A Good Mother - Parenting Quotes - Motherhood Moments | The Connection We Share
I really like this quote. When it comes to motherhood there are lots of challenges and right now my major challenge has become naps.  You see, I am type A and therefore love routine..but since becoming a mom I feel as though I have no routine or order to my day. I really dream of naptime to get things done but it seems like it is not in the cards for me.  Yes, Greta does nap but the problem is the naps happen while she is held, which is not conducive to getting lots done (even with babywearing to try to get some stuff done!). I think that the fact she is a preemie has a lot to do with our predicament.  She spent countless hours kangaroo-ed in the nicu so to her it is comfort, it is safety, it is nourishment and it is love.  (And really how comforting is a crib with those bars, and it;s cold and hard...) I've read books, blog posts, websites and done plenty of research but can't seem to figure where to go from here to get her to nap routinely and consistently.  Part of me thinks I'm asking to much from her, as lots of books say consistency of naps won't happen until five to six months then the other part says she needs to learn a routine soon or it will never happen.  Anyone have some advice/tips on a napping routine? This mama would be grateful for some ideas!

Until we get it figured out though, I will continue to indulge in the joys of motherhood -- which happen to be the sweet cuddles I get when she does nap.  They really do melt away all my silly frustration when I breathe in her smell, rest my cheek against hers, and just be with her -- because I know before long those cuddles will be few and far between as she grow into the feisty little girl I know she is going to be!

Winter Mornings

This weekend winter arrived in Manitoba.  Usually I dread the arrival of the snow because other years it meant a longer and white knuckled drive into the city for school or work, but instead this year I am welcoming it with open arms as I have the luxury of choosing when I want to venture out on the roads and into the city.  The other reason I'm welcoming winter is because winter mornings have become my favorite!  The reason: sweet mornings with our little family.  You see, summer and fall are very busy for Matt and now that the snow has fallen things begin to slow down slightly.  This means some extra time to enjoy the morning with us. This morning we leisurely sipped coffee and watched Greta play under her play gym.  Then while Greta and daddy enjoyed some cuddles I was able to get some things around house done before he left for work.  I am seeing that this year winter mornings will be the setting for some sweet memories to be made and this makes my heart is happy.

What are winter mornings like for you?

Dear Greta: 5 months

Dear Greta,

Wow, we are one month away from you being half-a-year old.  Everyday you are changing and becoming such a clever girl as you are grabbing rattles, laughing and smiling at new sounds or faces, and exploring your body - especially your hand which you appear to find quite tasty as they are ALWAYS in your mouth! (You've have been keeping us busy - which is why this months letter is a little late.)

Your Stats:

Well you haven't been to the doctor so we don't have an exact weight on you this month but I'm guessing your around 11 or 12 lbs now.  Your growing quickly out of the 0-3 outfits you've been wearing so you are growing quickly!

About You:

You are learning and growing everyday, plus you finally have a consistent sleep schedule! You go to bed around 7:30pm and you are sleeping until 5:30-6am.  You eat while you are sleeping at 11pm which gets you through the night and allows daddy and I to get a good sleep as well.  You listen to Jewel's Lullaby album every night as you fall asleep in your cradle.  We are hoping now that you are sleeping well that we can move you into your crib in the nursery that I decorated so pretty for you! (We will see if it happens before next month.)

This month you celebrated your first Halloween! You didn't get dressed up in a costume but took pictures with the pumpkin daddy carved (his very first one since being in Canada!).  It is starting to get colder and your about to experience your first winter and first snow! It's exciting at first but Manitoba winter's are so long, you'll probably hate them when your older, haha!

Love you sweet girl,

Mommy, Daddy and Milka