I was chatting to my amazing friend Becci about breastfeeding today and realised I really wanted to record our feeding journey.
I knew that breastfeeding was the best thing for babies. I once thought, rather ridiculously, it was really easy to do and that both mother and baby could immediately work in partnership to provide regular meals for little one, until I watched a really good BBC documentary a few years ago on the subject and realised I was very wrong.
When I came out of ITU and onto Labour Ward I was encouraged to try hand expressing and get some colostrum into a syringe for Skittle. I honestly couldn't believe how small the syringe was! When the nurse handed it to me I just thought surely I'm going to need a bigger one than that. How wrong I was.
I sat squeezing and massaging for about 40 minutes and that tiny 0.22ml was the product of my hard work. That night they brought me the express pump and I sat there, sky high on morphine, with the thing attached to my boobs doing nothing but sucking air. It was like that for 11 whole days.
Before Skittle arrived I was pretty laid back about the whole breastfeeding situation. I knew not everyone could do it and I was ok with that. I knew it took 3 or 4 days to start and I was ok with that. I knew I wasn't going to breastfeed exclusively, I wanted hubby to be able to do some bottle feeds so that I could have a break and he could feel involved. I was pretty much happy with whatever scenario we ended up with as long as our new baby got fed. Well that was before he arrived. Then everything changed.
Suddenly expressing milk felt like the only thing vaguely motherish available for me to try and I was desperate to provide. I agonised over those tiny syringes for days. I was determined that he would have my milk. Initially Skittle seemed to be having such tiny amounts of breast milk in addition to the drip that I was fairly sure I could coax out enough milk to keep him going. But then all of a sudden they seemed to be increasing his feeds at a rate of knots and they asked hubby to sign a consent form for donor milk. At the time I was bitterly disappointed and blamed myself for being unable to provide for him. Unable to do the one mothery thing possible. Unable to do anything for him, good grief did I beat myself up over that. But now I'm so grateful to those ladies who donated that milk and made it easier for him to digest his food for those days prior to my milk being enough.
Then when I did get some milk in I had to go for a special type of scan. I can't remember exactly what it was called. But I had to drink this awful stuff and go into a machine and then wear a wrist band saying 'radioactive' for 24 hours. It was awful. Awful for a few reasons. Most dreadfully because it meant I wasn't allowed to see Skittle for 14 hours. I also couldn't hold him for 24 hours. AND any milk I did manage to eke out had to be thrown away. Thrown away! I couldn't believe it. Bad day. Bad, bad day.
This was the first time I did a feed, I must say I felt entirely useless. I was initially excited at the prospect but it quickly passed. Holding a syringe while the milk drained through a tube. I don't know why I found it so sad, you would have thought I'd have just been happy to participate but for some reason I was just so upset that I was feeding my baby but it felt like a medical procedure.
When I graduated from syringe filling to express pump and finally started to get a little trickle of milk landing in the bottle I proudly took it down to the NNU and placed it on the nurses trolley only to watch her spill it. She dropped it and it quickly poured out and onto the work surface. Oh my goodness how I didn't just melt into a ball of tears I don't know. I did shed a discreet tear though. I was gutted. But also keen not to make the nurse feel bad, poor thing it was only an accident and she seemed like she was having a bad day and I didn't want to make it worse for her.
On the 12th day post delivery my milk finally came in! And Skittle was nil-by-mouth. They were worried about NEC as he had a distended tummy and wasn't tolerating his feeds. Thankfully it wasn't NEC and he didn't need surgery but he did have sepsis, so it was still life threatening and it was a while before they could build his feeds up again. In that time my milk was stock piling in the NICU freezer! I expressed loads but oh boy did I hate it. Argh I hated expressing. I hated getting up in the middle of the night to express it was a bitter reminder that my baby wasn't there. I hated the noise, the feeling, the look, the sterilizing, everything expressing I hated. And then when I had to give back my hospital grade express machine I used a shop bought one, which was actually really good, but compared to the green machine it was like a nipple massager not an expresser. Anyway, I've started ranting. Everyday the nurse would take all my bottles of the stuff and put it in my box for when Skittle was stronger.
During his 3rd week in NICU he started really sucking on his OG tube so I asked to start trying him on the breast but I was told I had to wait until he was 34 weeks gestation. So on the morning he turned 34 weeks I started trying him latching on.
Sometimes he managed. Sometimes he didn't. It was so very stressful. Hospitals are not the place to learn how to breastfeed. The environment is all wrong. Those dreadful screens are a faff, the room is noisy, people interrupt, it's too hot, it's uncomfortable and all in all it's a nightmare.
We successfully accomplished 3 full feeds at random moments in SCBU but decided to come home with the NG tube in rather than waiting to establish full breastfeeding. I tried 3 times a day for 19 days. And on day 17 I very, very, very nearly gave up. But my Mum encouraged me not to and when the community neonatal nurse called she told me not to and in my tired and stressed out state I didn't have the energy to argue.
I have to say I love breastfeeding now. Not in a 'lets-all-do-it-in-public-and-make-other-people-feel-bad' kind of way, hey I even go in the other room at home when we have visitors, but just for me and Skittle we tried and tried and tried again and we eventually got there and I'm proud of us. I know loads of other prem mum's don't have the same story and for lots it's just not possible and for a while I didn't think it would happen for us either and if it hadn't, I know Skittle would have been absolutely fine for it, after everything prem babies and their mum's have been through just having each other is the main thing, not to worry about feeding methods.
Plus donor milk in most NNUs mean that premmies do get breast milk in those early days when it's important for their digestive systems. Over on the amazing notevenabagofsugar blog there's been a great post about this subject recently. I would love to donate all my let over expressed milk but unfortunately due to a hefty blood transfusion I don't meet the criteria.
For now my milk drawer with over 80 bottles of milk will just have to remain the visitor tourist attraction.