My Experience Breastfeeding a Preemie

Posted by  | Wednesday, November 28, 2007  at 7:13 AM  
My experience with breastfeeding started off in the NICU when my son was born at 32 weeks weighing just over 3 pounds. I was not prepared (obviously!) and hadn't even made it to the breastfeeding class my husband and I had signed up for! I knew I wanted to nurse, but that I would have to pump once I returned to work. I had gotten some advice - a lot of it good - and I think I was relatively prepared for breastfeeding to be a challenge. I was determined to nurse if for no other reason than the fact that I refused to pay for formula! Like Leah said, my passion for breastfeeding has since grown with my experiences and I am so looking forward to nursing my baby girl in March!

To be quite honest, nursing a preemie was extremely stressful but I am SO GLAD to we persevered through all of the trials.

This picture was taken the first time I was able to hold my son skin to skin. This was at 3 days old. He did show some signs of rooting during this session, but was still too small to suck, swallow and breathe at the same time. He was getting all the breast milk (pumped courtesy of the Medela Symphony - the Cadillac of breast pumps) he could through his feeding tube. Actually - interesting side note - before my milk came in the doctors tried giving him formula in his feeding tube. His tummy did NOT tolerate it well and they waited to try feeding again until I had some colostrum to give him.

Around 1 week old, we were able to start trying to nurse. It was also around this time that he received his first bottle. The bottle was truly a necessity in order to get enough calories into him (without having to use a feeding tube) to allow him to come home. The breast milk he received in the bottle was basically fortified with a special formula. Because of his small size and difficulty latching, I ended up using a nipple shield. Please know that I am NOT endorsing this product. Many women are given these to use without being given the knowledge on how to use them properly. I truly do not recommend a shield unless it is an absolute last resort. For us, it was the only way to get him to latch properly until he grew a bit. Weaning from the nipple shield proved to be one of our biggest nursing hurdles and I will avoid it at all costs when nursing next time around.

Once Will left the hospital (after 2.5 weeks) our routine included alternating between nursing sessions (with a shield) and the bottle of fortified breast milk. We were told to continue this for around 2 months - until he would have been full term. So, we did. Of course I had to pump after EVERY session in order to keep my supply up. (This is part of the evil that is a nipple shield. That and all of the washing and sterilizing of pump parts, bottle parts and nipple shields that my poor husband had to do!) I really hated pumping at night and made it my goal to have him weaned from the nipple shield by his due date. Weaning from the shield was not easy because simply put - he had nipple confusion. A shield is very similar to the bottle nipple. He wanted nothing to do with me. We later found out that his refusal to nurse (or take a bottle) for those first weeks was also due to his reflux. His reflux was also bothered by the formula that we had been fortifying his bottles with.

Oh yeah, Leah mentioned weight checks - we also had to do every other day weight checks at the doctor for quite a while...but Will only weighed 3lbs, 12 ounces when he came home so I understood the need to be sure he was gaining well. In fact, it took him a while (partly because of his reflux) to start packing on the pounds. Weight gain has had its highs and lows for Will and continues to be a battle as we round 18 months old and barely pushing 20 pounds.

After several appointments with a lactation consultant - we slowly made progress with weaning from the shield. I don't remember exactly when he weaned, but boy was it so great!! Eventually we got into a routine that involved no pumping or bottles. At least for the few final weeks before I headed back to work...

When Will was 12 weeks old, I went back to work full time. I am so thankful that I had 12 weeks off with him. I am convinced that we would not have succeeded with nursing had I not had some extra time with him.

At first, pumping at work was a chore to say the least. But I quickly fell into a routine and it wasn't so bad. We did have to continually battle low supply and this was definitely frustrating. I think my supply was negatively affected by the start we had with the need to pump (versus skin to skin contact nursing - does wonders for the hormones!) and the use of the nipple shield. I was constantly using the resources that Leah and Krista have already mentioned ( and the la leche book).

We successfully nursed until around 11 months. I think it was a little longer before he totally dropped his before bed nursing. Around 10 months we started introducing formula in his bottles. Slowly we transitioned him and he did great. I was bummed that we didn't make it to a year, but my supply had gotten so low I could no longer keep up with his needs by pumping at work - despite all efforts short of hormone replacement (only kidding - sort of...).

Breastfeeding Will was definitely one of my favorite parts of being a mommy in those first few months. I am convinced now that we would have battled many more illnesses had I not breastfed him for those 11 months. Not to mention possibly more serious reflux and weight gain issues as a result.

Krista and Leah have already given some great practical advice. The only part that I would like to reiterate is to seek out help!! It is not as natural as it is made out to be. You and baby have to LEARN. But in the end, it is so worth it and I wouldn't trade the hardest parts for anything in this world.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for all the information I know waht you mean about weight Lydia is 26 months old and weighs 21 lbs. She started at 2lbs 12 oz Anyway this is kinda off the subject other than nutrition but I know a lot of you are experts on that so I was wondering if any of you could suggest something kind of bread or recipe for one that is made free of gluton/wheat... I just found out I can't have these things and my junk food and processed foods have come to a end (thanks to a medical diagnosis) but praise God most of the problem can be controled with diet just be praying I can really change that I would appreciate any suggestions


Hollie said...

That first picture is A-MAZING.

Krista said...

I strongly recommend The Maker's Diet by Jordan Rubin and the Weston A. Price (WAP) Foundation - Over the past few years I have developed a passion for health and nutrition and have enjoyed reading many different resources; these are two of my favorites. Both go back to the basics and discuss the importance of whole foods - nothing refined and processed. Weston Price was a dentist in the 1930s who saw the condition of teeth seriously decline and hypothesized it was due to nutrition. He was able to travel the world and live among a variety of cultures and document their health. He found cultures that not only had no cavities, but no cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Crohn's, IBS, infertility, etc. The WAP Foundation is based on his research and it is excellent. As far as gluten free recipes, Nourishing Traditions is the very best cookbook I have (I would throw all the others away if I could only keep one) and it is published by the founder of WAP foundation. There are gluten free recipes in there as well as other resources. Here is a good website and there is gluten-free information on it as well:

Hope this helps in getting you started!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much sorry to interject others issues but I knew I had come to a good source :) Thanks so much


Anonymous said...

I can't believe how SMALL Will was. Look at the healthy boy he has grown into!

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