Amanda's Story - The Beginning
My mom was a huge part of my choice to breastfeed. She nursed 4 of her 6 children and was also a Le Leche League counselor. So as a kid I was almost always around a nursing mom. Plus I knew how many benefits it has for the babies.
My First Born
When my daughter was born there was no way we could have afforded formula. She took to nursing like a champ and we never had any issues. She would never take a bottle no matter how hard we tried so the choice was made there. I worked and she would wait ten hours to eat until I could get home to her and then nurse all night long. She nursed until right before her third birthday.
When we were expecting my son I assumed we would breastfeed. I had no bad experiences with my first. But then I developed Preeclampsia and had to be induced at 30 weeks.
I was terrified my body wouldn't know that it needed to make milk. I wanted him to have the best since he was going to have a rough start. It took the nurses about 12 hours of messing with pumps and pills and whatever else after he was born before they finally even let me pump.
I was devastated thinking that with that large of a gap between birth and being able to pump coupled with being 10 weeks early I wouldn't be able to make anything. I was worried he would be hungry all that time and didn't know what they were feeding him. All of these thoughts I couldn't even communicate because of the meds making me so groggy.
Getting through it
One thing that really helped me is that the head nurse for the NICU both when I checked into the hospital and on the day he was born was a lady whose children I used to babysit when I was younger. So I felt really comfortable with her being in charge of his care. It helped me worry far less. The NICU staff was always great at explaining the milestones and what had to happen next and we were so very lucky that he didn’t have any major problems.
Feeding in the Beginning
He was pretty much only on special IV fluids when he was born. I pumped and got a few drops. Enough to actually feed him for over 24 hours but I didn't realize that. I pumped every two hours around the clock. I was thrilled when my milk came in. Thrilled that I had way more than he needed. During his NICU stay and for weeks at home he was given fortified breast milk. The first three and half weeks solely by feeding tube.
His biggest issue in the beginning was that he couldn’t hold an IV for more than about 12 hours. He was poked so many times trying to find a good vein that would hold. He still has a pretty deep scar on his ankle from one that blew and wasn’t noticed until a lot of the IV fluids had pooled in his leg instead of going into his veins. There was one doctor who really saw what was happening and stepped up and pushed his milk intake and tolerance faster to get rid of the IV as soon as possible. Once the IV was out is was a lot easier on everyone.
Introducing the Bottle
At about 33 and a half weeks the doctor recommended we go ahead and try bottles because he was doing so well. The brain doesn’t typically develop enough to handle being able to suck, swallow and breathe until about 34 weeks so we knew it was kind of a risk and might not work.
The NICU had a great feeding therapist on staff and she helped us with some tips and tricks. How to pace him so he would stop to breathe. When to decide he was working too hard and finish through the feeding tube. Once or twice he had a small Bradycardia event - where the heart stops and breathing stops because the body was so overwhelmed by trying to eat. She and the nurses showed us how to recover from that with him. Little by little he did better with the bottle and by 35 weeks he was about 50/50 bottle vs feeding tube.
When He came Home
He came home at 35 and a half weeks. Still in oxygen but doing so well. He would wake to eat, giving a bottle took 45 min. Then I would pump for 25 min. Then clean everything up. And he would wake to eat again. It was exhausting.
At 39 weeks (so 9 weeks old) I got the ok from my doctor to stop fortifying the breast milk and try to nurse him. I got some help from a great lactation consultant and with a lot of effort we got him to take the breast instead of the bottle. It was such a relief and made things so much easier for me. But he started refusing the bottle at that point so my husband wasn't able to feed him anymore.
Trying to Nurse in the Hospital
I did decide to try and nurse him in the NICU because I wanted to have someone who could help me with the difference between my full term baby and what to do for this one. How would I ever pace him like I did with a bottle? How would I get him to stop when he needed to breathe? Lots of questions.
The hospital lactation consultant (LC) set an appointment along with his feeding schedule. My goal for the session was just to see if I could get him to latch since everyone was telling me that he was a little too small and young for nursing still.
I pumped before the attempt so that I wouldn’t be so full and overwhelm him. The LC was actually not helpful. She was rushed and frustrated and not willing to give him time to latch on his own. She kept grabbing my boob and shoving it in his mouth which was totally stressing me out. Finally I got him to latch for about 30 secs which I felt was a huge victory. The LC was hugely disappointed and in frustrated voice told me that we would have to try another time. I told her that at 34 weeks all I wanted was to try and get a latch and that I felt it was very successful. She then looked at his chart, said she didn’t realize his age and that he did really well and left.
I only tried to nurse him one other time while we were in the NICU and I did not let her come help us. I have never been able to recommend the LC support from the hospital to anyone and I have warned all my friends having babies there that everything else is awesome, take the LC guidance with a huge grain of salt.
When he was able to come home, he was on oxygen but completely on the bottle. After a few weeks his pediatrician gave us the ok to stop fortifying his milk for a bit and try breastfeeding. It was awful. He would barely latch, he was so frustrated, and I was a mess. I ended up calling the LC who was renting me my pump and asked to schedule an appointment with her.
She told me the support at the hospital would be free and I explained the situation and that I would gladly pay for some real help. She gave me several amazing pointers over the phone and told me things to look for, which hunger cues to hone in on and within a day we were nursing!
Our new problem for a while was that he would only nurse on one side. I realized though we always held him on one side when he took his bottle and that his preference had developed there. So I did football hold on one side, cradle on the other and we got it worked out. I had some severe oversupply while I regulated to what he needed vs what I had been pumping, but we managed through that as well.
My Support System
My husband was amazing through all of this. I’ve never seen such an involved dad and without him I don’t know how I would have handled it. We have amazing family and friends as well. So many people donated food or restaurant gift cards or helped in a number of other ways. One set of friends made thirty freezer meals for us. My sister watched my daughter before and after school so I could be at the NICU and family and friends were really understanding.
How we Bonded
In the beginning we were only allowed to hold Brayden once per hospital shift because of the IV. My husband went during nightshift and I did day shift so we each could hold him in a day. We did not give up that time to anyone. We also wanted my daughter to be the first to meet him but she was sick right after he was born. So most people had to wait a few weeks to get an in person glimpse of him inside the NICU.
I spent all day every day there on the week days and we did family visits on the weekends. I always hated how little time he got on the weekends but when you have an older child it is hard to ever feel like anyone is getting what they need in that situation. My husband would leave for work at three AM so he could go to the hospital first, spend an hour holding Brayden before work. I spent the days at the hospital from about 8-5. I would hold him when they let me, which was more frequent as time went on. He would get very restless in his incubator but if you put a hand on the top of his head or on his chest he would relax and sleep so that is how I spent most of the days stepping out only for lunch. It was hard leaving him in the evenings.
How my Daughter Made it
Thankfully my daughter was a little older and could understand. She also predicted it would happen. In August she made me get the nursery ready (crib and all) because the baby was coming. I kept telling her we had time. He wouldn’t come until January. Then she asked how great it would be that she would share her birthday with her brother. I told her that her birthday was October, he would be January. Her response was “it’ll be close.”
They put me in the hospital the day before her seventh birthday. My husband brought my daughter, pizza, cake and presents to the hospital the evening of her birthday so we could celebrate. We joked about how she was born in the same hospital and was back for her birthday. Brayden came two days after her birthday. It was close.
Because I was working full time at that point she was used to me being away during the day. We kept my sister watching her the same hours she did while I worked, so the days didn’t really change much for Alyssa. I came home about the same time I used to get home from work and she had evening time with us. She got to be the first to see her brother. Everyone else had to wait. (That was really hard on some). She was also the first (besides Jason and I) to get to hold him. She had a picture of him in her room and he had a picture of her in his NICU space.
When it is hard get help. When the help doesn’t seem to be helping get a new helper. I tried the LC clinics at the hospital so I could do the weighted feedings. Every time I left defeated. They would tell me his latch was wrong or he wasn’t getting enough. But the latch didn’t hurt and he was GROWING. I had to have the knowledge to discount pretty much everything they said and find new sources of help. And I didn’t think all the moms in there had that. So many were supplementing and I’m not sure they really all had to or were just getting bad advice. Go with your gut, talk to your friends – you can do this.
Feel free to comment below with how your nursing relationship was different than you thought it would be. If you would like to share your story through photos and a blog (which you can write or I can) please contact Miracle Kisses here so we can get started.