Allison (Premature Babies)

_MG_9535I had my first preterm baby unexpectedly at thirty weeks. He came home from hospital like most preterm babies bottle fed baby on bottles (of expressed breastmilk in my case). I wanted to try to get my son to breastfeed but I had no idea how to do it. As he waiting for surgery, it was RSV season and I was unable to attend any breastfeeding support groups. However I did ring a few groups for some advice but found it difficult to get any information on how to get a nipple confused prem to breastfeed.

My PHN suggested a lactation specialist, but before I had the opportunity to contact one, my son became critically ill after his surgery and ended up in
hospital for just over six weeks. Due to the stress of the situation, sleeping on a floor and not eating or sleeping properly, my milk supply dramatically decreased. I had no idea how to increase my supply. The only solution I was offered was formula.

When he came home at almost six months, my milk was almost non-existent. I felt so inadequate not being able to feed my baby and it was so frustrating pumping tiny volumes of milk several times a day. At six months I had stopped expressing, and in some ways it was a relief as I did not have to put myself through pumping for hours and getting little or nothing. I often look back and wish I had gone on longer. But I did the best I could. I had my baby before any ante-natal classes and had little or no knowledge of expressing or breastfeeding.

When pregnant again, I decided to spend some time reading and researching. The internet was a brilliant source of information. I lived on Kellymom and Dr. Jack Newman. It was only through research that I realised that as a mum of a prem I was never given the knowledge or advice that
could have made a big difference in my ability to express more efficiently and effectively.

I was determined to give myself the choice to choose the method of feeding I wanted for my baby, whether it was a full term or another preterm. It ended up that I went into labour at thirtyone weeks, so it was another preterm. I had to got to a HDU unit after the birth, but my husband went to the NICU after the baby and told the staff to put a sign with ‘NO TEATS’ on the incubator. They obliged him and I felt relieved just knowing the sign was there because I was really anxious about having another nipple confused prem.

The baby was doing really well and was tube fed for awhile. I was allowed to hold him on day six and every day after that I did kangaroo care and put him to my breast. Most days he did nothing at the breast but the odd day, he gave me a little lick.
The time came for him to be introduced to an independent method of feeding and in most cases this starts with the bottle in Ireland. I tried to explain my fears to the staff looking after my son in the NICU about nipple confusion and sadly on the whole it was not met with much empathy. In the end, after a very tearful conversation with a doctor and senior nurse, I felt pushed into giving him bottles even though I was really uncomfortable doing this.

Without the NICU staff I would not have my two beautiful sons and for that I will be eternally grateful, and I have met some amazing people in the medical profession, but I feel that women like myself are being let down and not getting the right support in relation to breastfeeding our babies. Breastfeeding and expressing is really important to me as a mother and it’s the one job nobody else could do for my son, only me.

When I brought my son home, he was bottle fed just like his brother, but I was absolutely adamant that I was going to get this one breastfed. Within a day of coming home, I had hired a lactation specialist to work with us. She recommended we try nipple shields first, to make it easier for him to feed as he was only thirtyfour weeks. We tried him on the nipple shields for almost every feed but he got so tired he practically stopped feeding at all, so we amended it to alternate feeds, one feed at the breast using a nipple shield followed by a bottle feed.

It was time consuming as after the” feed” on the nipple shield I ended up giving him top ups in the bottle and then had to express. He just seemed to show no interest in feeding and all he wanted to do was sleep. I tried every trick I could think of to keep him awake to feed, but if he wanted to sleep that was it. He had problems with jaundice since he was born and still had, so this did not help matters at all. I was getting a bit frustrated but I had a very supportive husband, public health nurse and lactation specialist who helped me when I felt like throwing the pump & nipple shields out the window.

A few more weeks followed like this and we decided to try a SNS system of feeding. In theory I loved what this machine could do, but it was not for me. I found it a bit messy and the tubes kept falling out. It was around week fourteen now and despite all our best efforts, breastfeeding was not happening. I was thinking of just expressing full time because I was worn out, my milk supply had dropped due to low iron levels, but thankfully I went on to motilium and it resumed within a few shorts days.

My lactation specialist came over for a visit during week fourteen and as usual we tried to breastfeed. But this time, it was different, he opened his mouth wide enough so she could latch him on and miraculously he breastfed for the first time. I could not believe it. I was delighted. However it was short lived as he refused for the next feed but he took the feed after that.
It had taken so long to get to this point that I was half afraid it would not last. But we started the gradual process of removing one bottle a day and substitute with a breastfeed, sometimes followed by a top-up. Over a period of about two weeks, he breastfed more than bottle fed. The tops were gone and he was gaining good weight. I still had to continue doing some expressing until he learnt to breastfeed more proficiently.

When he eventually made the transition to full breastfeeding, it would take him an hour for each feed, but as he got stronger, his feeding time reduced. I eventually managed to get him away from his routine as I wanted him to feed on demand.

He is almost fifteen months now and we are still breastfeeding and I am so glad I stuck with it even though I felt like stopping a few times. Although it was a long journey to breastfeed, I would do it all again in the blink of an eye, because it is such a wonderful beautiful bonding experience. Although it took us awhile, his jaundice played a part in his initial lack of enthusiasm, but if you get the right support and advice from the day you first pump, it can really make the difference, I am just so glad I got the honour of breastfeeding my prem.