I had it all planned out. Natural, slow, beautiful Birth Center birth. God had other plans. Around 27 weeks gestation, I found out I had preeclampsia and it progressed into HELLP (H-hemolysis, EL-elevated liver enzymes, LP-low platelet count) Syndrome. We were sent to Texas Health Harris Methodist Fort Worth for an emergency C-section to meet my 1 pound 5.9 ounce baby girl.
Thankfully, they have a phenomenal NICU unit and are strong advocates of breastfeeding/breastmilk. They made sure I started pumping very early. My husband loves to tell about the first time I pumped. Due to being “put under” for the C-section, I was not even conscious. My husband walked in my recovery room after surgery and he saw a nurse holding the flanges on my breasts while it was pumping.
After that, every two/three hours a nurse would come to help or remind me to pump. My girl was getting my breast milk that I pumped through an NG tube in tiny amounts (like 10 mls) every 3 hours. I remember getting up at night, and sometimes falling asleep while pumping! A lactation specialist came by to teach me about pumping, hand expressing, and how important it is to keep a schedule of pumping for my supply. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to breastfeed my child and this was the way I could do that until she was big enough to try breastfeeding.
At first, the tiny amount of Colostrum that I would get after pumping seemed insignificant and discouraging. I would hand it to the nurse at the NICU and she would praise me on how good I did and how every little bit counts. Receiving encouragement from the nurses and my husband and seeing the other NICU moms going into pumping rooms was reassuring. Eventually, my milk came in and I was seeing results from the hard work that I had put in pumping. I had a very large supply. I had built up enough milk stored that NICU asked me to start taking the milk home. This was such a wonderful feeling! I can actually do this! I had enough to feed my child. Extra even! It was then that I started to share my large supply with other moms in the area that needed breastmilk donations.
This was about the time that I started back to work. I would work part time/half days then head to the hospital. I am truly blessed to have the job I do. I work with all men. They are very supportive. They understand, gave me time and never missed a beat when I was away from my desk and pumping every three hours. I did make every effort schedule my pump times directly before and after work and at lunch so that I only had to miss a minimal amount of work time. Most importantly, they didn’t mention the breastmilk I kept in the fridge until the end of the day. And let me tell you, it was embarrassing the first couple of times coming out of the room with a bag that held milk storage bags to be put in the fridge. They didn’t say a word; some even smiled. Being supported at work made it easy to continue pumping. My bag that I carry the breast pump, supplies and other things I need to pump have become part of me! I can’t go anywhere without it!
When my girl was around two months old/32 weeks gestation we tried non-nutritive breast feeding. While she was getting fed through the NG tube, I would hold her up to my recently pumped breast that had a drop of milk on it. She slowly began to get curious and nose around. This associates being fed with my breast. Next was nutritive breastfeeding! I was so excited and nervous. She was still so tiny. Again, the encouragement from the staff and husband got me through the nerves. Since we could only try to breastfeed once a day, it was a rollercoaster of some days latching and sucking well while other days she wouldn’t. I felt on top of the world when she would latch and so discouraged on the days she wouldn’t. We were able to get her to latch consistency with a nipple shield that an LC suggested. While I worked the nurses introduced my baby girl to bottles with my breastmilk in it; she had to be able to prove she could eat all her food without the NG tube before she could be released from the hospital.
Dealing with severe reflux and being put on thickened formula for a short time were the more difficult things to deal with. I knew the formula was helping her reflux but I was still disappointed that she wasn’t receiving my breastmilk. We just kept doing what we had been, kept pumping and breastfeeding the allowed twice a day and praying. Thankfully after 85 days in the NICU, she was released to go home still breastfeeding twice and bottle feedings of formula the rest of the time.
We have an amazing pediatrician who is also pro-breastfeeding. After a month of us being home and having small and infrequent spit ups, he told us we could transition to all breast milk. This was a light at the end of a tunnel. Prayer works!
Taking one day at a time, staying positive, surrounding ourselves with encouraging people and prayer helped us. My girl is a healthy 6 month old with a great latch (without a nipple shield, YEY!), both breastfeeds and takes breast milk in a bottle. She sleeps through the night. I have now stopped pumping in the middle of the night so I get a full night’s and I am still pumping at work! Many times I have thought about quitting, but I know this is what I want for my child. We have come this far and plan to continue for as long as we can!
-Guest post by Charli Vance