Friday, October 2, 2015

Our Breastfeeding Story

Do you remember the first time you saw a mother breast feed her infant? I do. It was my dad's cousin's wife, feeding her son. Until that moment, and I was 10, I had no idea that was the reason women had breasts. I also didn't know any other reason. I remember wondering why men had nipples and no "bumps". I was 10. Once I learned that breasts could feed babies, well, my baby dolls experienced a whole  new level of play time. I remember stuffing my dolls under my shirts to nurse. My mom formula fed my sister, brother and me. The idea that I could hold my baby and feed her from my body was very cool to me.

When Jacob was born and we put him to breast, the little buddy latched on right away and started growling. The nurses giggled and were literally like hens clucking all around me. There were 3 of them all positioning my baby and my boob. I giggled with glee and such a sense of accomplishment after he started nursing.

Bennett was born and rushed to the NICU, was fed by an NG tube for 10 days and we started bottle feeding. We tried to get him to latch on, but at 35 weeks, the whole breathe, suck, swallow wasn't developed and it took about another 10 days and we were home by that point, before I could ditch the nipple shield and just breast feed him.

I nursed both boys for 3 months. If I knew then, what I know now about breastfeeding, I may have continued to BF. Then again....maybe not.

Katie was born and again, whisked away to the NICU because she was a micropreemie. She was born at 26 weeks. She weighed 1 lb. 11oz. I didn't even ask for days if it was a possibility for her to breastfeed ever. I was engrossed in pumping. In fact, Katie was born on a Friday evening. By Sunday morning because of the trauma of everything, lack of sleep - I couldn't sleep, the surgery, being away from my boys, and knowing the baby that I anticipated to be a 3 lb. baby was not even 2 lbs., the nurses had to swaddle me with warm blankets and give me a muscle relaxer because I had the first anxiety attack of my life. I could have gone with the donor milk. I was told by the neonatologist that took care of Bennett though that the donor milk is pasteurized. The donations are taken, thrown into a vat and cooked to kill bacteria. Problem is that it also kills all the vital enzymes and bacteria that baby needs for ....everything. She told me that she would prefer I use formula over donor milk. Now, that was 4 years ago....maybe things have changed. But that was the information I had at the time Katie was born and I was determined to start pumping because if a "normal" baby needs mother's milk - micropreemie was definitely going to need the best option possible because the entire final trimester of her pregnancy was not, in my womb. I had committed mind, body and soul to getting her my breastmilk.

I pumped every 2 hours for the first 2 months of her life. [I am sure I will post again about the regimen of pumping for a micropreemie another time.] At 32 weeks, she was ready to start putting at my breast and start bonding that way. The nurses also knew that would boost my supply. At this point, I had only held Katie about 5 times. She was 6 weeks old. The first time we tried this, I was completely scared for Katie. Her head was the size of an orange and to have "one of the girls" coming at her freaked me out for her. I told the nurse, "Let's just rest her head here and we'll try to latch another time." The nurses thought my reaction was funny. They told me she'd be fine but I told them if I were her, I'd feel ganged up with "all of that" coming at me. The next day, we tried again and this time, had the nipple shield ready. Do you want to know what my little punkin' did? She latched on like a pro [32 weeks gestation, with an NG tube and O2 tube up her nose and down her throat] and she nursed for 32 minutes!!!!!! This was the biggest highlight of the NICU experience for me. It was doubtful that she'd ever actually breast feed. I had done research online and other mommies in the NICU were exclusively pumping to provide milk for their baby......not many nursed and certainly not as early as 32 weeks. Once she discharged at 37 weeks, I tried to follow the NICU's instructions of adding a fortifier to my breastmilk and giving her a couple bottles a day. I erred my not picking up the exact brand the NICU used and Katie reared her head back, spit out the milk and arched her back every time I attempted a bottle. I decided I could either freak out, or just nurse. Nursing tuckers out babies, especially preemies because it's more work than the bottle, initially. In the NICU, she got to nurse about 3-4 feedings/day and the rest were bottles. I was nervous that she wouldn't gain weight or that Katie would be too tuckered out to eat. But she never did. She thrived. She nurses to this day.

About a month ago, I was at my wit's end with breastfeeding. It was the first time, I started thinking about using formula. Katie's feeds, in the evenings, since discharge were high demand and after months of cluster feeding every evening, I was done. I talked to Steve about it and as I was telling him my total frustration, then came the fear. She was born a micropreemie and we are heading into flu/RSV season. Katie NEEDS the antibodies and goodness of mother's milk for as long as possible. I am not a breastmilk nazi. Some mothers are insane and judgmental about mother's that choose formula. That's not me. This time around was different though - I feel convicted about breastmilk. For a month, we had been feeding her one bottle, in the evening. We used the milk I expressed, in the NICU. A reserve, we thought would take months to deplete, got pretty low, after a month of Daddy getting to feed her a 7oz. bottle each evening. But that little bit helped my sanity SOOOO much. I could spend time with the boys, I could do laundry in peace. Sometimes, I just sat without having Katie attached and I felt........human. When we saw how little milk we had left, I started freaking out because I had a taste of freedom and couldn't go back to cluster feeds! Guess what our Warrior Princess showed she was ready to do? She started eating solids like a champ. Right on target 6 1/2 months adjusted, 10 months actual. Our pediatrician, also a neonatologist, had suggested I attempt since she was 4 months adjusted [7 months actual] to introduce her to avocado and greek yogurt. I did this off and on. Our pediatrician was adamant about trying to get the tongue used to what comes naturally to "termies" [term babies] because she had seen many cases of preemies not getting this down, dropping weight and having to go back to NG tube, with a button in the stomach. Katie had no interest and she just dribbled it out all over herself until a month ago and then she took off! This has been a god send because I still primarily nurse her, but the cluster feeding has ended. She eats lunch and supper with the family. :D She growls if we don't shovel it in fast enough. I have started making baby food, which is super fun.

Our hope is to continue to breastfeed until she weans. We hope that will be her adjusted 12 month birthday in February. I have learned so much more of what makes breastfeeding successful, with Katie. I am by no means a mama that wants to keep her attached forever, but I also cherish this gift and reflect on how badly I wanted to be able to do this with my last baby. It's a small miracle, in the sea of miracles, that Katie swims in. It's a beautiful thing.

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