(Note: Now that my youngest son, a former 27-weeker, is two and thriving, I’m publishing several posts today for World Prematurity Day. This one is about Nursing a NICU Baby.)
One of the things I’m proudest of in my life is that my 2 year old is still breastfeeding. It was a difficult journey, to say the least. He was the first baby I had who had to receive formula to gain weight properly, and as a former breastfeeding counselor, this was something particularly gut-wrenching for me. Breastfeeding was a huge part of who I was as a mother.
Formula was something lactivists like me used to refer to as “crap in a can”. But for many, formula is life-saving.
Do I think women don’t get enough good information about breastfeeding from their health care providers? Yes.
Do I think free formula samples are generally a bad idea? Probably.
Am I thankful formula was available to me? Absolutely.
There are about a dozen reasons why premature babies have difficulties gaining weight on breastmilk alone. Everything from the stress and trauma of a (short) difficult pregnancy, to NICU separation, to hormonal issues, to mom’s inability to respond well to a pump, to the sheer immaturity of baby (weak suck, easily fatigued, low muscle tone, etc).
But I’m one stubborn lady. Here are the posts I wrote about it.
Nursing a NICU Baby:
Part One: Breastfeeding A Preemie
Part Two: Pumping For Your NICU Preemie – why it’s so hard, and helpful tips
Finally, throwing away my frenemy, the Lact-Aid
Teaching a preemie how to breastfeed in the NICU
He licks me. He sticks out his tongue, spitting the nipple I just spent several minutes getting into his mouth, right back out.
He frowns, concentrating hard. He knows there’s something he’s supposed to be doing here, but he’s just not sure what. He sucks twice, half-heartedly, then falls asleep, exhausted from the effort.
Nursing a NICU Baby isn’t for the faint of heart. It takes a stubborn determination and a willingness to leave behind previous ideas and experiences for a new normal.
Teaching my preemie how to nurse was totally unlike helping my other six children.
I had to make peace with him getting a tiny bit of formula. I grieved, cried and got angry.
Then I focused my energy on what I could do – pump like a mother – every three hours, night and day, and stopped punishing myself.
Shannon Smith says
My first baby was 39 weeks, so technically full-term. He was c-section though and the nurses told me he acted like a preemie. It took me about 6 weeks of finger feeding him through a syringe with pumped milk to get him to nurse properly. And then we nursed until 13 months.
My second baby is 5 months now. He was 3 and a half weeks early (due to a car accident). He went through almost the same pattern as my first. We did end up having to supplement with formula and it broke my heart. We’re nursing great now, though.
I really appreciate what you said about c-section babies. I realize now why both children might have had an issue with it since they were both c-section. Thankfully I was more stubborn than them and really wanted to make it work.
Wow Shannon. It took a lot to finger-feed and pump for that long! Way to go stubborn Mama 🙂
I have read a lot of LLL leaders and other breastfeeding counselors talk online about the increasing problems of nursing moms. It’s no longer true to say that the vast majority of women can breastfeed (without having to supplement). There are so many things conspiring against us now: increased C-sections, interventions that save preemies, hormonal issues, etc. I wish more women knew about some of the alternatives like the Lact-Aid. Thanks for sharing that!