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!

1 comment:

  1. Yep, yep, yep..... I won't leave ANOTHER super long comment, but...yep. Luckily for me, my son never had any aversion to bottles, he'll eat any way he can get it. He had bottles (of pumped milk) for a while in the hospital before they let us try breastfeeding and since the day he came home he had a combo of both. It's great now that I have been back at work for months and he is still a champion eater, either way. :-)
    I'll be glad the day I can retire my pump, though!! hahaha
    (OK, I guess that ended up being a bit long.)


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