Breastfeeding is hard. I heard that many times throughout my pregnancy. So I read books, I set up a support system, I signed up for a breastfeeding class, and I bought all of the supplies necessary for a successful nursing relationship. As with many things in life though, this preparation didn’t get me very far.
My daughter was born on the night of our breastfeeding class. I didn’t remember reading anything about breastfeeding a premature baby. In fact most of the advice I did read, didn’t even apply to me. I read that immediate skin-to-skin was very important, but I wasn’t even allowed to see my daughter, let alone hold her, for hours. When I did eventually get to hold her, she had so many wires and tubes coming out of her body, that getting that initial contact for breastfeeding was impossible. I struggled to find support from a lot of the hospital staff, but a few special nurses and a fellow NICU mommy were able to help me get started.
Over the next few weeks, I learned so much as my daughter and I struggled to become a team. I hope some of these tips can help you on your path to breastfeeding success:
–Timing is everything. After you give birth, your body needs a little help switching from pregnancy mode to milk production mode. If you are unable to attempt nursing with your baby, try and simulate what it would be like if you could. Start pumping as soon as you possibly can and get on a strict schedule. Don’t be discouraged if nothing or very little comes out; just keep pumping!
–Prepare for extended pumping. Pumping is very difficult and time consuming, but it will help keep up your milk supply until you can attempt breastfeeding on a regular basis. Buy a hands-free bra and a few things to keep your mind busy. You can use your pumping time to journal or catch up with concerned family and friends.
–Utilize your resources. One bright side of having to spend so much time at the hospital is that you are surrounded by experts. Use them! The lactation consultants are there to help you be successful so ask that they be present any time you are attempting to breastfeed.
–Speak up. As with many things in the NICU, you must be your child’s biggest advocate. Every time a new shift comes on, tell them any goals you may have for your baby and be specific about the kind of support you need.
–Be patient. Remember this is a new skill for you and your baby. Many full-term babies struggle with breastfeeding, so you can only imagine how hard it must be for preemies.
Also, please remember that even if you do everything “right” and have the best intentions, sometimes breastfeeding is not possible. Most importantly, surround yourself with people who will support you in all your decisions. Although our journey was long and there were many obstacles we had to face, we are still breastfeeding almost 11 months after we first started at the bedside of that isolette.