Traditional breastfeeding can be fickle if not downright elusive to the mom of a preemie. You may be up to breastfeeding, but your baby may not have the strength to latch on and feed. Thankfully, hospital grade pumps can help moms of preemies bridge this gap to ensure our tiny newborns receive the benefits of breast milk.
I come from a long line of women who deliver early. We have healthy, normal pregnancies and then the pregnancy hormone, progesterone, just drops to basement levels somewhere around 34-36 weeks of pregnancy. This results in the body’s immediate need to go into labor early. True to my genes, we would go into labor 6 weeks early with our daughter. She was monitored closely for jaundice and the ability to maintain her own body heat without the use of a lamp. She would pass all of these tests and be sent home with us after just two days in the hospital.
There was one test however our 5 lb. baby girl could not master and it was breastfeeding. Our lactation consultant quickly realized that our daughter did not have the strength necessary to breastfeed. She would latch on briefly and just stop, looking exhausted and done with the whole exercise. It was recommended a hospital grade pump be delivered to our home. By using a pump, our daughter would benefit from breast milk without wearing herself out or using up precious calories in the feeding process.
If you are like me, delivering early I never really got to study up on breastfeeding. I was going to focus on that later in my pregnancy, closer to the delivery. I appreciated the lactation consultant educating me on the value of colostrum. If she had not been so attentive explaining the benefits of this early milk and breast milk in general, I do not believe I would have pumped as long as I did.
Pumping is a chore. It is done out of love for your baby and the instinct to see them thrive. Those bonding feelings mothers talk about during breastfeeding simply are not there during a pumping session. In its place are the sounds of the pump and you eyeing the bottle to see your efforts realized. I still remember pumping every two hours. Initially, I had to supplement my formula with the little breast milk I could collect but, in no time our daughter was on straight breast milk at each feeding.
This schedule would go on for the next two months. I would try every once in a while to see if our daughter would breastfeed, but it always yielded the same results. She would latch on for a minute and then quit. The rigors of keeping up with a newborn plus pumping took its toll. I was exhausted and quite haggard. I was also wondering how I was going back to return to work in one month. Where would I get the energy?
Around this time both my pediatrician and obstetrician were inquiring about my breastfeeding efforts. Our daughter was gaining weight and doing fine, but I had dark circles under my eyes and felt overwhelmed. They both came to the same conclusion. Our daughter had benefitted from the early milk and the breast milk. She was over the hump and doing well. Both suggested I wind down the pumping and feed our daughter formula. I felt like a breastfeeding drop out, but I gradually weaned our daughter off breast milk. Guess what? She did fine and I found the energy I had been missing. I am not suggesting this is right for everyone, but it worked for us.
My obstetrician at the time was a seasoned physician with many babies under his belt. He told me I had given breastfeeding and pumping the college try, but I had reached the threshold of benefits. It had become a taxing proposition for me. He also said “A tired mom is not a happy mom.” True.
I returned to work a month later and never regretted the decision to move to formula. I was a pharmaceutical representative and did not work in a traditional office where I could easily pump and store breast milk in a fridge. If still pumping, I would have had to done it in my car during the day – parking on the top deck of parking garages and cursing the fact that my company car did not have tinted windows. In addition, I would have been storing my milk in a car refrigerator powered by my car’s power port. I have heard of other women doing this so I know it’s possible. It just sounded like a route I did not want to take.
Our daughter became sick with a virus around her third month. Being so small, she would catch bugs much easier than other babies. After nine days, she was admitted to a children’s hospital where a pediatric gastroenterologist (talk about specialized) would consult with us on her condition. He had us move her to Nutramigen formula since he believed she had developed a milk allergy. We also learned that our daughter had a problem with reflux and we would have to be careful with acidic foods such as tomatoes and citrus. The new formula worked well and our daughter eagerly consumed it at mealtime. She would stay on this formula until she moved to solids. Around the time she transitioned to solids we reintroduced cow’s milk and she tolerated it fine and still drinks it to this day.
Today our daughter is a healthy 11 year-old girl who excels in sports and enjoys the rigors of school. She has caught up to many of her friends who were full-term babies that did not experience the same challenges in infancy. We were told this would be the case as she aged, but it is nice to see it actually come to fruition. My biggest challenge now is not to baby her and be as protective as I was earlier in her development. Easier said than done! She still has issues with reflux, but as long as she takes medication, it is not a problem for her.
Lisa Rothman lives in Nashville, TN. She is a parent of a late-term preemie, Parrish, born at 34 weeks. She recently self-published her ebook, Motherhood: The First 90 Days to share her story and to help fellow moms transition into motherhood. Her experiences with a preemie and the organizational skills which helped her return to work after three months could be useful to other moms finding themselves parents sooner than planned. You may connect with her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.