Human babies are biologically primed to thrive on their mother's milk yet sometimes the fragility of a baby's beginnings makes breastfeeding challenging. Research has shown that breast milk increases survival rates in babies born prematurely.
August 1-7 is World Breastfeeding Week, in our blog this week Leigh shares her experiences of nurturing her premature son, Warwick, by pumping breast milk and holding him skin to skin whilst he was tube fed and breastfeeding her second son, Wade.
Wade and Warwick
My idea of feeding my newborn baby was a magical one. I was determined to breast feed for as long as possible and had wonderful images in my head of how it would be........
NURTURING MY PREMATURE BABY
I never dreamed I would be sat in a small room with a neonatal nurse holding a syringe to my boob! I never dreamed my baby would come 11 weeks early and would be in the neonatal intensive care unit fighting for his life.
I learnt very quickly in that room just how important my milk was for my 2lbs 10ozs teeny weenie warrior. I heard for the first time in my life, the word ‘colostrum’. I also realised that a stranger was sat in close proximity to my uncovered boobs and I wasn’t bothered.
Something had changed that day. I had given birth. The thing was, I wasn’t sat on the ward looking tired but elated whilst my chubby, crinkled newborn was suckling away on me. I was on a hot neonatal clinical unit with strangers and my baby wasn’t with me. I was putting my milk into a syringe.
The next day, I was introduced to ‘the pump’. It felt very weird at first and a tad uncomfortable. (Hospital pumps are much more powerful than ones over the counter!) It only took a few days for me to harden to it though and I was quickly up to the highest suction level. Not only that, I was able to double pump too! It meant I was back at the incubator quicker, although I did like going off to express because producing milk was the only thing I could do for my tiny baby and producing milk proved I was a Mommy.
Expressing became ‘normal’, and there wasn’t talk about my baby going to my breast so I never thought to ask about it. It didn’t really bother me because this world of neonatal was our world now and I had nothing to compare it to.
When we were allowed home the nurse asked me to go to the kitchen with her to collect my stored milk. She had asked that we bring a cool bag in to carry it home. When I went into the kitchen and she opened the fridge my name stickers glared back at me. Not just from one fridge but from three! I had produced SO much milk! We needed more cool bags to carry it and that precious milk fed my little boy for 3 months when we got home.
BREASTFEEDING MY FULL TERM BABY
After giving birth at full term, and whilst in recovery (following a section), my chubby, crinkled baby was placed on my chest in skin to skin contact. It felt tremendous and then something extraordinary happened. He was feeding from me. I truly couldn’t believe it. I was crying and kept saying to my husband and the nurses, “look at him”, how is he doing that?”. It was magical and so blooming clever! I instantly felt like a Mommy and I felt needed. It came naturally.
The funny thing is, I had bought an expressing pump and had it in my head that I needed to be expressing. It's as if that was normal for me to express my milk and have it there ready? It was kind of instilled in me. I think because it became a huge part of my care for my preemie. It's what I could do for him, and I was good at it! So I would feed my chubby one and then still pump! Then one day, the pump became faulty and I panicked and instantly made my husband drive to Mothercare to get a new one. It's like I subconsciously thought that if I couldn't pump, I couldn’t feed my little boy!
I wonder if I had had a full term baby first, would being unable to breastfeed my preemie and having to express have upset and affected me more? I remember so well my glorious feeling when I saw my second baby so easily feeding from me, but instead of thinking I missed that with my preemie, I feel incredible that he still fed from me. Through a tube, but he still fed from me! The utter glorious, engulfing feeling of love and protection came from endless hours of skin to skin with my preemie whilst he was hooked up the the feeding pump!