Before I even became pregnant I knew I wanted to breastfeed. Nutrition has always been incredibly important to me (although, what I have considered ‘correct nutrition’ has changed many times in my life – we’ve settled on what I truly believe is ‘right’, now, though!) and so therefore breastfeeding seemed like a no-brainer. I was very passionate about breastfeeding even before I gave birth, and in my mind anyone who didn’t breastfeed either caved to peer pressure to bottle feed, didn’t try hard enough, or was lazy.
Little did I know that I was going to be faced with bottle feeding.
I was afraid when my water broke early that I wasn’t going to get to breastfeed. It was one of my biggest fears. I was convinced that because I was having a premature baby that likely we wouldn’t get to breastfeed. Luckily for me, the hospital set me up with a pump and not 20 minutes after I got back to my room after delivering the nurse came in and said, “You should pump.”
So I did. And I did and I did and did. Every two and a half hours. Day and night. Every day. For almost three months.
Bunkers was on IV nutrition for the first few days, and then he was given formula for two days until my milk came in. Then he was given breastmilk with HMF – human milk fortifier. It is a formula they mix with breastmilk to give to preemies. It adds two calories to every ounce. TWO. Knowing what I know now… I would never have allowed that. They sent some home with us to continue mixing into breastmilk once we were home from the NICU… the ingredients?
Nonfat Milk, Whey Protein Concentrate, Corn Syrup Solids, Medium-Chain Triglycerides, Calcium Phosphate, Potassium Citrate. Less than 2% of the Following: Soy Lecithin, Minerals (Magnesium Chloride, Sodium Citrate, Calcium Carbonate, Sodium Chloride, Potassium Phosphate, Zinc Sulfate, Ferrous Sulfate, Cupric Sulfate, Manganese Sulfate, Sodium Selenate), Vitamins (Vitamin A Palmitate, Vitamin D3, d-Alpha-Tocopheryl Acetate, Phylloquinone, Thiamin Chloride Hydrochloride, Riboflavin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Cyanocobalamin, Niacinamide, Folic Acid, Calcium Pantothenate, Biotin, Ascorbic Acid, m-Inositol), and Potassium Hydroxide.
Contains milk and soy ingredients.
Look at those first ingredients! Here I was trying my hardest to pump breastmilk for my baby because it was what I KNEW was best, and they were tainting it by mixing in this useless stuff. A woman’s body knows what it’s doing. It’s scientifically accurate to say that the breastmilk of a woman who’s given birth to a preemie is different than a woman who’s given birth at full term. And breastmilk is ever changing. For each age, stage and environment.
At any rate, Bunkers was getting breastmilk. And I felt good about that.
The lactation consultants at the hospital were very kind and very helpful. They wanted me to breastfeed, they wanted me to succeed. However, DH and I were told time and time again that Bunkers could not go home until he could consume all of the milk given to him via bottle in a 48 hour period. No milk left over; no unfinished bottles. It seemed as though breastfeeding didn’t fit into their requirements of him. I decided that we’d concentrate on bottle feeding and get him home; once home we would just switch to full time breastfeeding.
If I had it to do over again, here’s where I’d make one of my biggest changes: breastfeed, breastfeed, breastfeed. Take every chance, every opportunity. Listen to those lactation consultants. Put the baby to the breast! I was so focused on the end result (leave the NICU) that I didn’t take the time to just be with my baby, be his mama, and bond with him at the breast.
Bunkers was in the NICU for 25 days, and once home he was a baby with a preference: the bottle. I tried and tried and tried to get him to latch. I tried with all kinds of gadgets and gizmos. I tried refusing him the bottle and doing a full weekend of just putting him to the breast. Nothing worked.
So I pumped. I just kept pumping. Pump, feed, sleep a little. Rinse, repeat. I said to DH, “I feel like there is no night or day… there is only just this.”
After 10 weeks we were so done. We were done with the pump, the pump parts, the bottles, the washing, the sterilizing, the spilled milk… It was overwhelming. And my supply was diminishing. I had been several days ahead with freezer stash just a few weeks after coming home from the NICU. By 10 weeks postpartum I had only enough ‘stash’ for the next two feeds. We were desperate for something different.
We decided then that we were going to switch to formula. We wanted to start enjoying our baby.
That was a Wednesday. Bunkers was almost 11 weeks old (4 weeks old adjusted age).
Thursday my mom came over and I was telling her our plan. I had just fed Bunkers a bottle and needed to pump. My mom said,
Why don’t you try him at the breast after he’s fed?
So I did. And he latched like he’d been doing it his whole life.
And let me say here that it’s not like I hadn’t tried latching him AFTER a feed before. Of course I had. It was just that this time something clicked for Bunkers. He GOT it.
So he nursed and then fell asleep. I was IN SHOCK.
And here’s the miraculous part… the part I never saw coming… the part I thank Bunkers for still to this day…
Within 48 hours he was exclusively breastfeeding.
No bottles, no pumping. Reliving this as I write just brings back all those emotions and I can still feel the absolute elation… Ahhhhh…. what a relief!
After that breastfeed with my mom, I offered Bunkers the breast when he was next hungry. And he latched and nursed. And then at the next… I was so scared it was all going to come tumbling down, but it didn’t! We did pump and feed sessions (me pumping, DH feeding) that night and then the next, but that was all. And we never looked back! Bunkers has never had a bottle since then.
That’s pretty much our story! It’s not overly interesting after that. Just lots of nursing! Bunkers has been a great nurser since he decided to start doing it.
I have so much more appreciation for mothers who have trouble breastfeeding. Be it lack of knowledge, lack of support, or even just plain lack of exposure thanks to our society. I still feel like every mother owes it to herself and her baby to at least give it a wholehearted try, though. And to seek professional help from a Lactation Consultant or Le Leche League leader.
He’s now 13 months old and still nursing. He has been nursing less in the last few months, and he nurses now mostly at night (we co-sleep) with five or six feeds during the day. Mostly just before or after meals and if he gets a really bad boo-boo and needs the comfort.
I was asked recently how long I plan to breastfeed. I don’t think it’s really that simple! In all honesty, I feel lucky to even be breastfeeding at all. I’m leaving the rest up to Bunkers. It’s my job to be his mama, to tend to his needs, give him love in any way I can… and for us, part of that is nursing.