This will probably be one of the most painful blogs I will ever write. I have dreaded touching this topic for a long time, because it still stings. But, I have learned, I am not a terrible mother for my decisions.
Breastfeeding my babies was always my goal. I wanted to try for a year MINIMUM. Little did I know that it was a lot easier said than done.
Breastfeeding is hard work. It's even harder when you have a preemie.
I was already laid up in the hospital due to recently diagnosed Pre-Eclampsia when I had my first child. I was 36 weeks gestation, and when he first came out, he appeared very healthy. As I was bonding with my first-born in his first couple hours of life, I attempted to feed him for the first time. Getting a latch was very hard, because he wanted nothing to do with it. Every time I brought him to my breast, he cried. When he was finally latched, it was in an awkward position, so I would re-adjust, and he would lose his latch. I noticed though, when I was trying to nurse my baby, something didn't seem right. Not only would he fuss after suckling for a bit, but he was also very "grunty." When I said something, I was told, "he's probably just congested a bit, that's normal." About 30 minutes later, they took him to the nursery for testing and to clean him up. So I waited. And waited. And waited.
I was getting anxious. Why has no one brought my baby to me? After a couple hours, I asked a nurse,
"Could you bring my baby to me please? I'd like to try to feed him again and bond with him."
"Oh, his blood sugar was a little bit low, and his body temperature was a little low, so we have him under some heat right now to warm him up, and we gave him some glycerin water to help with his blood sugar. Don't worry, we'll let you see him soon once he's okay."
Red flag number one.
I waited for about 5 hours to see my baby. (I would walk every once in a while to see him in the window of the nursery, but was never able to hold him.) No one could tell me anything other than "His blood sugar is low, and his temperature is down." I was getting very worried. What's wrong with my baby? Why can't I hold him? Why won't anybody tell me anything?
It wasn't until around 10:00PM that a Neonatologist came to speak to me. He then informed me that one of his lungs was not 100% developed, and due to this, he could not keep his blood sugar or temperature up, so they had moved him to the NICU. I walked with my husband and the doctor to see my son. When I finally saw him, I couldn't hold back my tears anymore. There was so many machines, so many sounds, so many tubes. I hated myself. I felt like it was my fault that my baby was so sick, that he wasn't healthy. As I got to touch my son, finally, after several hours, a nurse explained to me how visitation and care worked in the NICU. She said I could be there as often as I wanted (with the exception of shift change), and I could come nurse him as often as I wanted to. She encouraged me to pump breast milk if I couldn't come down, and that for now, his feedings would be administered through an NG tube, unless I wanted to feed him myself. I felt a lot more at ease, and I was ready to be strong for my baby, so he could be healthy and go home.
He spent 5 days in the NICU, and by that time, I had pumped almost every feeding, since I was also trying to recover from major abdominal surgery. I had decided at that point that I would pump and feed, unless I felt inclined to try and nurse, since most attempts to nurse, he was not interested. I had told myself "I can still bond with him if I give him a bottle, after all, it has my milk in it!"
(My oldest getting mama juice)
Two weeks at home went by, and I was in a good routine of pumping and feeding my little guy. That particular day, I was at my parents' house, so they could assist me with the baby if needed, since I was still healing. I had just finished feeding him with a bottle, and was getting ready to go pump in a separate room, when one of my family members (I won't mention whom) said to me,
"What are you doing?"
"I'm gonna go pump. Why do you ask?"
"No. If you're going to breastfeed him, you have to do it the RIGHT WAY."
I was speechless. As a first time mom, I wanted to do everything right. And now, I was being told that I was feeding my baby wrong. I grabbed my son and ran into the other room. With tears in my eyes, I struggled to get him to latch. Nothing was working. I was angry.
I kept attempting to do it "The right way," and ended up completely drying up within a week. I had some milk still frozen, but it was quickly fading. I needed to do something so my baby could eat. So, at that point, I had to make the tough decision to formula feed my baby. I was devastated, and I felt defeated. I felt I had failed my baby, that I couldn't give him the very best thing for him.
Fast forward 3 years, and I was back in the hospital, pregnant with my 2nd baby. This time, I knew my baby was going to be a preemie, as my water had broke at 30 weeks, and they could only try so many things to stop my labor before it was time to deliver. I spent 3 weeks in the hospital on bed rest, and I was prepared of the obstacle of the NICU. I had learned at that time that nobody was going to dictate how I fed my baby. The only person that had control of how I fed my baby was myself, and If I wanted to give him a bottle of breast milk or my boob, damnit, I was going to do just that.
At first, my second child was fed through an NG tube for his feedings, but we definitely practiced nursing as much as possible. It was still difficult to get comfortable, because there was a lot more tubes, and a lot more to worry about with a 33 week baby than a 36 week baby. One major concern; Apnea. One day, as I was nursing my sweet boy, I got him on a good latch, and things were looking beautiful, he looked so happy and relaxed, and I was as well. Then, his color started to change, and the alarms went off. My baby had stopped breathing while nursing. He was very quickly whisked out of my arms and put back into the isolette. The nurse then said to me,
"I think we're done feeding for now. Let's not stress him out anymore." It wouldn't had bothered me, but the way she said it, and the tone that she used, she made me so angry. I stormed out of the NICU, back to my room, and immediately hooked up to the pump, and I cried. I cried the whole time I pumped. All I could think of was the words that my family member had said to me, and that I was doing it all wrong again. No, I told myself. You are doing what is best for your baby. You keep pumping, mama, your baby needs your milk now more than ever. I ended up pumping 4 ounces of milk in 10 minutes, which is pretty impressive for a mama 4 days post-partum.
(My youngest, the day of his Apnea episode)
My baby was released after only 9 days in the NICU, impressing all of the medical staff with how well he did. And I was a pumping and nursing queen. I had an awesome milk stash and I was comfortable with nursing and bottle feeding him.
And then... there were hormones.
Nobody tells you that certain gynological problems can hinder your breast milk supply, but they can. I have a very lengthy history of issues, from ovarian cysts and a miscarriage, to pre-cancerous cells on my cervix. After about 4 weeks of successful pumping and nursing, I was starting to notice, I wasn't getting nearly as much when I pumped, and he wasn't nursing as long. I talked to my OB/GYN at my follow-up, and she prescribed me a medication to help with my supply, and to try some herbal supplements as well. I picked up about 3 different supplements and the medication. I wanted to try everything. And for a few days, everything seemed to work really well! I decided to drop the medication, and just stick to the supplements. And that's when my supply dropped, FAST! I went from pumping 5-10 ounces, to only pumping 1-4 ounces. Even while engorged, I could only pump about 2 ounces. I was devastated. I was back to where I was with my first child. After 6 weeks, I had to stop, not only because the power-pumping was exhausting, but because I wasn't getting anything. I was having to supplement at least half of my feeding with formula, already. So, I made the switch to formula full-time. After making the switch, I was very upset, but after talking to several people about it, including my lactation consultant, I realized that some is better than none, and I gave it all that I had.
I fed my babies to the best of my ability. Some people may not agree with that, but my sons are healthy, and they are fed. And, in the end, that is what really matters.