I was not prepared for my youngest daughter Sawyer to be admitted to the NICU. Even though my Doctor told me to prepare myself for the possibility that she would be taken to the NICU, I didn’t and I regret it.
After I learned that she would be okay and was basically staying in the NICU for cautionary reasons my biggest concern was breastfeeding. I had nursed Sawyer’s older sister Payton as soon as I was taken out of recovery and she didn’t stop until she was 17 months, so I was a seasoned milker. During my first visit back down to see Sawyer after I was initially taken after her birth, I asked the nurse when I could breastfeed. The woman looked at me like I grew a second head right in front of her. Once she regained herself she announced that there were steps to follow and first Sawyer had to keep down her feeding by tube followed by a bottle before I could attempt to nurse. I asked her for mores specifics and she became flustered and literally walked away from me.
I complied at first with the tube feedings and one feeding by bottle and then I had enough. I purposefully came to see Sawyer when I knew her doctor would be there and questioned him in front of the nurse as to the reasons Sawyer was receiving a bottle and not my breast. His only concern was tracking how much she was eating at each feeding; I offered to weigh her before and after each nurse. He agreed and I grinned like the Cheshire cat at the nurse….I was hormonal…….
The next scheduled feeding time I nearly floated to the NICU and was so proud when the nurse laid Sawyer in my arms and she curled up in my arms, latched on and nursed for 15 minutes!!! The first feeding they wanted her to get 10 oz, she pulled 40! I was there every three hours for her feedings and after one day of weighing her with exceptional results her neonatalogist discontinued the requirements for doing the weight check at each feeding. I was so proud of my Sawyer Bug, she nursed like a champ and still does to this day nearly six months later. The day she was discharged Sawyer weighed her birth weight, which for a premie is the goal for their two week check-up!
I wish that every Mommy who wishes to breastfeed their premie could, but the reality is for some babies that isn’t possible but I do believe that there are many more babies in NICUs around our country who not only can but should be nursing!
If your baby is admitted to the NICU and you want to breastfeed at some point, ask for a hospital pump as soon as you can get one and pump every three hours around the clock. Establish your supply on your own, even if you think you’ll be able to physically nurse your baby at some point in the NICU chances are that for at least the first 12 hours your baby is going to be monitored and you want to get them as much colostrum as possible.
For Mommies like me who are able to make every feeding, do it! Ask your baby’s doctor when you can start to nurse, ask questions if you don’t understand what they’re telling you. Ask to be put in touch with the lactation consultant for your hospital, I owe more than I could ever express to mine, Mrs. Van English. Also reach out to your local Le Leche League group or your WIC office, find someone to support you for when the road gets bumpy!
For Mommies who are unable to physically breastfeed, pump pump pump, our NICU gave us bottles to fill and label. They kept them in a freezer to use instead of formula. Ask your nurses what their procedures are, and while you have their attention, ask them to help you with Kangaroo Care if your baby is a candidate for it. Stay strong and know that you’re providing them with the best possible fuel they could have to heal and grow strong!
Britt is the owner of Nelly’s Nappies in Ft. Myers, FL.