Breastfeeing a Preemie: A 3 Year Journey.

August 22, 2016
dad feeding NICU baby breastfeeding hand to hold prematurity preemie

Thanks to pumping, dads can play a big role in feeding in the NICU.

My breastfeeding journey began kind of hectic, you could say. I had just had a c-section, effectively birthing a 26-weeker, and was whisked to a recovery room where nurses hooked me up to a breast pump and told me I had to do this now! Of course I was thankful for the sense of urgency (they told me to get the milk flowing, I had to pump right after birth) but it was an interesting start.

I pumped the entire 3 months my son was in the NICU. Every 3 hours, everyday. Despite this, I never produced a lot. I always produced the exact same amount, at every single pumping session, which was 2 ounces of breastmilk total. I exclusively pumped for about 4 months total, and I never got an ounce more or an ounce less. Personally, I think the low supply was because I refused to pump throughout the night, effectively going 8-9 hours at a time without expressing. For me, I couldn’t night pump, because, well, I didn’t want to. With the physical and mental toll the NICU took on me, the only thing I could count on (and really needed) was sleeping like a brick when I finally got home from the NICU every night. And that was OK! I don’t think any NICU mom (pumping or not!) should ever feel bad about taking the opportunity to gain some sanity throughout this difficult process.

One of the NICU friends I met during my son’s stay produced upwards of 30 ounces of milk a day for her 28 weeker, while I produced about 12 ounces a day. I was a smidge jealous! But it didn’t bother me too much because I was supplying more than enough for what my son was intaking at the time. My son finally started REAL feedings at around 36 weeks gestation. Our first go at nursing was a huge success! Unfortunately, feeding would be my son’s only real hang-up during his 103 day NICU stay. Both breastfeeding and bottle feeding proved futile until he was much closer to his actual due date. He finally got the hang of it and came home on bottles of expressed breastmilk around 41 weeks gestation.

I continued to pump, but found it extremely difficult to do at home by myself with a newborn. “What is he going to do for 20 minutes?” and “What if he needs me during my pumping session?” were questions I had that made the process confusing and difficult. I still had a good supply of frozen breast milk, but the supply started depleting.

To be honest, I was afraid to breastfeed when we got home from the NICU. When I breastfed him in NICU, I felt the nurses and doctors were so hung up on exact numbers, that it scared me not being able to know how much he was actually intaking, if I was starving him, etc. It only took seeing my frozen milk supply quickly dwindling in my freezer that really pushed me to start exclusively breastfeeding. And off we went, proper, on our breastfeeding journey, about one month after he came home from NICU.

After about 6 weeks of exclusively breastfeeding, my son’s pediatrician suggested supplementing with formula. He hadn’t gained a single ounce in 30 days and given that he was only 11 pounds, he really needed to gain weight. His pediatrician greatly encouraged me to still breastfeed as much as I could though, which was nice. So 7 months after his birth he had formula for the first time, and we did a half formula, half breastmilk regimen for awhile. But we still nursed everyday. Everyday until just before he turned 3 years old. I guess the moral of the story might be that even if you have a low supply that never increases, you can still breastfeed for years!