|We had to buy a freezer to hold all of the milk!|
The night my daughter was born and for several days thereafter I did put her to breast and she fed like a champion newborn. Because she would be spending some time in the NICU (she was born two months early) - and because I got excellent advice from a friend who happens to be a lactation consultant before giving birth - I knew to start pumping immediately and not to stop until my supply was built. I never would have thought that eight months later I'd still be pumping.
The Medela Symphony was there for me like a good friend through the ups and downs of having a sick baby. Sweet Pea was first at Dartmouth-Hitchcock where there was HUGE support for breastfeeding (almost to the point of being annoying, actually) and where there was a "pumping lounge" for the moms. This lounge was the only place I could really flee to without guilt while spending hours with my daughter. Eight times a day I was there pumping like a pro and getting in a quick break from the drama of the hospital. Because it was a lounge concept you would often pump with other moms; this may sound weird - and it was at first - but I ended up meeting two dear friends who supported me throughout my NICU stay and beyond.
During our time at Dartmouth the doctors weren't sure what was going on with Sweet Pea, so in between every bout of infection I would again attempt breastfeeding my daughter. This usually lasted for about five days until she would get sick again (which is such a long story that I'll save it for another time) at which point I would stop, the doctors would cut off her milk, and she would be given IV nutrition until the new infection cleared. By the time we had Sweet Pea transferred to Children's Hospital in Boston I already had a freezer full of stored milk. In the end, my daughter spent 38 days (out of a 90-day NICU stay) not eating anything but IV fluid.
|Kangaroo Care the day after she was born|
At Children's there were no lactation consultants running around each day to remind you to pump or to help you with breastfeeding. Because it's a sick-baby NICU, not really a preemie NICU it's just not their focus. Here they had two pump rooms that you could use alone (sadly this meant that I never really connected with other moms who had been a great source of support at Dartmouth). I would often time my meals with my pumping so that I wouldn't have to be gone from my daughter's bedside for long. Pretty immediately the doctors at Children's realized that we needed to measure every drop of milk that Sweet Pea received, which meant that I couldn't realistically breastfeed her. (I know, I know... we could have weighed her before and after every feeding but that wasn't something the nurses seemed willing to do.) I was very sad but continued to be hopeful that once we were discharged I could breastfeed her at home.
After 90 days in the NICU it turns out that Sweet Pea just plain forgot how to nurse. I worked and worked and worked on it the week before discharge but it was heartbreaking. At this point she was eating great from a bottle but when put to breast she would kick and scream and I would always end up crying. Once we were home I continued to try for another month or so but it just wasn't worth the stress in the end. (And trust me, I read every book and website on breastfeeding so I tried it all.) Additionally, we needed to fortify her milk to give her extra calories and I still needed to know how much milk she was getting down to the mL each day; feeding from a bottle definitely helps with that.
So here we are almost eight months (tomorrow!) from when my daughter was born and I have weaned down to pumping just twice a day. I'm only getting enough milk for a couple of bottles but I still have about two months worth of milk in the freezer. Although there is nothing fun about pumping, it for so long was the only thing that I could do to help my daughter in a pretty awful situation. Now that I am near the end I am experiencing bittersweet emotions as I'm sure all moms feel when they stop breastfeeding. When I return the pump I will probably shed some tears but am hopeful that after a few days I will instead enjoy the extra time I can spend with my daughter without a machine attached to my chest.