August is Breastfeeding Awareness Month, and for us preemie moms, that can be a bit of a sore spot. This year I’m in the unique situation of breastfeeding my son, and pumping to donate, but a couple of years ago, I was sitting in a hospital room struggling with my supply. My daughter had such a sensitive digestive system due to being so early. Formula disrupted her system so much that she would stop breathing from her constipation issues. I literally had to breastfeed her to save her life.
The pressure of pumping and producing was so stressful. One of the main things that was really hard about pumping for me was the lack of connection. Pumping seemed so removed and sterile compared to nursing your own baby. I eventually was able to breastfeed her, but it was a very long journey, a story for another day. I’m here to encourage you mama, that breastmilk is a wonderful gift that you can give your baby; even one drop makes a difference. The one thing that helped me get through the long days (and nights) of pumping was that I knew it would change my daughter’s future. Connection seemed so aloof during those long pumping days.
Here are some of my tips on how to connect with your baby while you’re in the pumping journey (however long).
1. Skin to skin
Skin to skin right before pumping will increase your supply and your bond! I always had more milk after some snuggles with my baby girl. It can often feel like such a challenge to bond when your little one is covered in wires and monitors, and it seems that the nurses know so much more about your baby than you do. Take heart mama, nothing can replace YOU. Your baby knows your smell, your heartbeat, and your voice. I remember laughing hysterically once with my little girl on me, and I thought it would disrupt her levels, instead she was more calm than she had been all day.
Skin to skin is your time to be mom, and bring comfort and stability to your tiny baby. I loved feeling her little tiny body against me, feeling her breathing and watching her drift off to sleep on my chest. These are some of my most treasured memories that I will keep forever.
2. Non-nutritive Breastfeeding
Non-nutritive breastfeeding is a great way to “practice” breastfeeding without the added pressure of your baby accidentally choking on your milk. Pumping beforehand, you allow your baby to practice latching and give them a chance to bond with you. To be honest, this is one of the most awkward and beautiful things all balled into one experience. I remember working with the lactation consultant and two nurses as they tried to get my little girl a good latch. This was such a humbling experience as a first time mom, but I soon grew to love our time together, and see the benefit of this “practice” time.
I took a ton of pictures of my little girl in the NICU , at the end of each day I would use those pictures to look at while I pumped. This helped my body to relax and allowed me to produce more. I loved that I could relive our special memories of the day- even if the day had been a tragically hard one. I wanted to be able to look back on my daughter and be filled with pride of what we were overcoming, instead of guilt for her being in the hospital for so long.
My journey to bonding with my daughter was a long and personal one. There were times that she used formula, and I still used these strategies to keep the bond alive. World breastfeeding week isn’t about bringing shame to those that can’t breastfeed, but rather celebrating the milestones during the journey of breastfeeding. I hope that you are encouraged by this; and that you find ways to bond with your little one, despite cords, limited holding times, and all the challenges the NICU provides.