Friday, June 2, 2017

Breastfeeding from the NICU and Beyond

Getting pregnant was pretty unbelievable. We tried for 8 long years. I remember taking two tests, those fancy digital kind, and they both read Positive. I thought to myself "why did I buy these fancy new age tests?" My husband was asleep on the recliner, after a long hard days work. I was so sure these test did not work properly that I spent 2 hours researching their reviews on line. I still was not convinced. So, finally, I decided to drive to the store and just buy 2 more with the "plus and minus" signs, you know the old school kind. Those two were positive as well. However they had to be wrong because having a baby was everything we wanted and we had been trying so hard. Could this dream be coming true?

When my husband finally woke up, I told him about the tests and how they all showed POSITIVE results! He was in disbelief as well. We both agreed not to tell anyone, and had a unspoken rule, never to use the word "pregnant". It was now banned from our vocabulary and we were not allowed to say the word. Somehow we both felt if we spoke this amazing word out loud, it would not be true. We made an appointment with the doctor the following week.
 I was still sure they were all False Positives. 

I was so wrong. The tests were right! We were 8 weeks pregnant.

My pregnancy was pretty rough from the start. I had a short cervix and was constantly having to have it measured. I had to go in every other week and then as I got further along, every week. I was not allowed to push a full shopping cart, carry my own groceries, carry a laundry baskets, or many other tasks. I sometimes had to wait hours for help, just to remove grocery bags from my car. Of course I took in the cold items myself. I was then put on full pelvic rest. My short cervix was such a worry as my baby grew, I was warned my cervix may have to be stitched shut. Which would land me on bed rest. I decided to follow the doctors orders and eventually I was given the all clear. My cervix started maintaining its size and there was less worry once I passed 28 weeks, since a premature baby has a better chance or survival after this point.
I should of just planned for a preemie, maybe I would of been better prepared.

I had my baby shower at the start of my 33rd weeks, which was a Sunday. The next day I was back at work and all I wanted to do was go home. I just wanted to eat some left over baby shower cake! I still needed and wanted to look through all my gift bags of the cute baby gifts we just received. You know that dream all mom-to-be's have, where they wash everything and put it neatly away? Then they pack a hospital bag? Those were just that, a Dream! I got off work early for a check up at my OB. I was told to rush to the hospital and they would let them know I as on my way. I really was not told much, except that my blood pressure was very high. I had undiagnosed Preeclampsia. My blood pressure was sky high and I was told I would have to stay for 24 hours to be monitored. I only had the clothes on my back and still no cake.

After 24 hours, I was told I would not be leaving and my daughter would have to be delivered soon. My labor was induced that night and I would deliver sometime the next morning. I was given magnesium sulfate to take the swelling in my brain down. This had to be the worst part of the whole experience. It set my brain on fire and I felt like just having a conversation was a struggle. My body spent about 9 hours in labor overnight. The doctor arrived shortly after 6 a.m. and my cervix was at the right size. He used a giant wooden stick to break my water, immediately my daughter leaned on her umbilical cord. Her heart rate started to drop very drastically. I was told to flip over, then flip back. I was so confused. At the same time about ten people enter my hospital room and I here someone shout "GO, GO"! I was rushed in to the operating room and my beautiful teeny daughter was born by emergency c-section with in the next five minutes. My husband just stood in the room. He was not sure what was happening. A few minutes later a lady asked him if he has seen his baby yet. He said no and they brought him in the room where they were working on her. She was blue and they were getting her to breath.

 It was about 18 hours before I was physically capable to visit my daughter In the Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). I was unable to even touch her, It was very hard just looking at a baby you have been waiting forever to swaddle in your arms. It was 2 days before I could touch her. They did not want to stimulate any part of her body yet that did not need to work.

On Day 2 I woke up feeling a whole lot better. I went to visit my daughter in the NICU and returned to my room for breakfast . I returned to find a very nice hospital grade pump sitting next to my bed. A nurse explained to me that they would be feeding my daughter soon, that she would only need a marble size amount of food. The nurse explained the NICU had a refrigerator where I could store what I pumped and told me where in the NICU it was located. I really wanted to pump. I had every intention on breast feeding. I pumped this little container full and I was proud of myself (see photo below). I was going to do whatever I had to do to make sure she got breast milk. Anything to help her gain weight and be healthy. NICU pumping obviously is common, because I was immediately handed multiple sheets of labels that have a scan bar with your name for storage identification. The sticker is to go go on any bag or container of milk. This way the nurses can feed your baby your milk when you are not there.
Most NICU moms have to pump because breast feeding is not an option and most preemies begin to feed before they can be held or even touched.

 I was told that half of this storage container was used in each feeding, because a preemie at birth only need about a marble size drop of breast milk. This was the size of the containers that they gave me in the begining.

On Day 3 I was finally able to hold her. It was the best day ever. She was so tiny, I was scared. I knew how to hold a baby but not one so tiny and fragile, not one weighing only 3 pounds. It was pure bliss. She was beautiful. I only got to hold her for a few minutes. Since handling had to be kept at a minimum. Daddy had to wait another two days to hold her. 

I pumped as much of possible over the next 3 days I was in the hospital. I thought I had a good supply in the NICU fridge by the time I left. I pumped when I got home. I pumped in the NICU while I was visiting. I pumped in traffic. I pumped everywhere. I was determined to keep up with her feeding. As she grew she was starting to be fed more.

After 35 long days my daughter was released from the hospital. I managed to keep up with her feeding until this day. The following day I had to suppliment with formula. No big deal I thought. I will continue to pump. The NICU had me mixing formula with breast milk to add extra calories from day one. I figured this was a minor setback and I would catch back up. I wanted to master pumping and breast feeding so bad. I tried breastfeeding but never could get her to latch. So I continued to pump. I would pump and pump for over an hour, getting only 14 ml total! I did this for about two weeks. I kept suplimenting with formula. I kept pumping even though I knew it was not working. I blammed myself. I did not want to stop pumping because that would mean I had given up. I pumped for over an hour one morning and got 7 ml total. I told myself this has to stop. I am using more electricity than I am producing milk. I finally gave up and unplugged the pump. 

I beat myself up over everything. I felt like I failed my self and my daughter. I felt like my body had failed me. Looking back I know the only thing I failed was being nice to myself. I wish I could go back in time, I would of let go earlier. Pumping for so long and not producing anything was my sign. I should of given myself a well deserved break. I did just spend 35 long days in the NICU and did not get to sleep with my child or hold her daily to my chest. I was stressed being apart from her. 

All these things do not help milk production. It was not me or my body. It is just the life of a NICU mom. It is normal and is very likely to happen to anyone and even me again. My advice to any new mom struggling with producing milk is the following: 
1.  Do not look around the fridge and compare your milk stash to the mom who has half the freezer full. We are all different, she could have twins, and some breast milk may be donations.
2. Trying was and is what is most important. The colostrum and what ever else is given is better then nothing.
3. Never blame yourself. It is okay to use formula. Not having a baby on your chest does affect your supply.
4. Be nice to yourself. You just had a beautiful baby. There are a million other things to worry about. Running out of breast milk should not be one of them. Worry about what college they will go to or anything else. 

I really want to remind any of you ladies out there, NICU Moms or not, that if you want to stop because of lack of supply it is okay. I look back and say I went from "Big Bust To Dust". There is no need to pump like a mad women to only get drops. It is OKAY to let it go. Take that extra time to cuddle your baby. All our bodies are different and unique.

Before giving birth I was visited twice by lactation specialists who talked to me about breast feeding vs. formula, they really push for breast feeding. I wish they would have visited me in the NICU and helped teach me tips, form and most of all helped us latch. I was to embarrassed to ask for help. Next time around I will go find one and make as many appointments as possible to try and make it work. 
I am honored to share my story as part of the The Honest Company's - Feeding Stories Campaign.

My daughter will be 5 this month. She is smart and healthy​. 


  1. What a great post. I can't believe how tiny she was, what a sweetheart. I can't imagine going through all of that trauma and then being so overwhelmed with pumping. I didn't have any of your trauma with the birth of my boys and I was ready to beat my pump with a hammer. LOL!

    1. I had a used second hand pump. I should have rented a good one but was overwhelmed. I have a brand new pump, a double duty one waiting for a baby that just may never come.