My daughter Riley was born December 1, 2011. At 28+6, she was three months (12 weeks) early. I had been on hospital bed rest for 24 days prior to her birth due to my water breaking at 25+3. I had no contractions or labor until the early morning of the day I delivered. The doctors have no reason as to why my water broke so early, but we are grateful that she held on for nearly 4 weeks after that.
I was fortunate enough to have had my daughter at a baby friendly hospital with a NICU staff that encouraged breastfeeding. As soon as my baby was delivered, the neonatologist was at my side, he said that my baby looked great. She was born with her eyes opened and crying! He next words were that he was sending a lactation consultant to my recovery room asap and that I should begin pumping as soon as possible.
Less than an hour later, I had been cleaned up, had visited my baby in the nicu and was settling in my recovery room with a lactation consultant. She brought with her a hospital grade breast pump and a hand pump with attached to that pump. She showed me how everything work, suggested a pump schedule and gave me bottles and syringes to collect the colostrum and labels preprinted with mine and my baby’s name. When I tell you, they were on their game, they were serious about encouraging breastfeeding. I was only able to pump a few drops of colostrum that first and second day. I didn’t know any better then, but I didn’t even bother to send that down to the NICU. Knowing what I know now, I would have used those syringes to suck up those few drops and send them down.
Thank goodness that my milk came in on that second night. I was home by then and I was pumping before I was to go to sleep, it was around midnight and I pump about four oz! I was so excited! I got my husband up and sent him to the hospital with my liquid gold!! He was so happy to do it! I went on to pump several times a day for the six weeks that my baby was in the NICU. I had sent so much to the hospital that they told me to just keep whatever I pumped at home at home because I was taking up all of space in the freezer. I established a routine where I arrived at the NICU after morning shift change and stayed all day until sometime hours after evening shift change. I pumped in the wonderful lactation room at least 3 times a day. At home, I pump when I first woke up, when I got home from the hospital and before going to sleep. At my peak, I was able to pump about 5 oz each side. By the time Riley came home from the NICU, they send me home with enough milk to last at least a month in my freezer.
While in the NICU, at about three weeks, I asked to speak to her neonatologist to get his view on her progress and to ask when we could begin breastfeeding. The morning that I asked to speak to him, the NICU team had just lost a baby that morning and he was a little down. He was normally super energetic and really upbeat and that morning he was just so down. I didn’t know at the time that baby had passed. So he was telling me that Riley was doing excellent that he expected that she would go home well before her due date, which was usually the goal with preemies. When I asked him when I could begin putting her to breast to breastfeed, his face just lit up! His whole mood shifted that when he told me that I had just made his morning. He explained that he had been feeling discouraged because they had lost a baby that morning but that my wanting to breastfeed what just what he needed to hear. He told me the most wonderful thing that I’ll never forget. He said that the milk that I gave to my baby carried the stories of my ancestors before me and that I was passing on our history and our legacy to her. That rocked me to my soul, It had never occurred to me to think of it that way. That there was a bit of my mother, and my grandmother, and her mother and so on and so forth. He immediately wrote orders for the nurse to start Riley and me on nipple stimulation. He was so happy that I was able to keep up with pumping because so many moms were so stressed out from the NICU experience that often weren’t able to produce much milk.
That was the week of Christmas. By New Year’s we were doing at least one feed per day by breast and by the time she came home in Mid January, we were alternating bottle feeds with breastfeeds. The lactation consultants at our hospital were available to come by anytime I needed them. Whether I had a question or needed reassurance that our latch was good and that she was indeed drinking and swallowing milk.
Once getting home, my focus became breastfeeding on demand, so I stopped pumping so much and let baby latch instead. I wanted to develop that more than I wanted build a stash. So my stash dwindled but my baby became a super nursling. My only regret is that I didn’t continue to pump regularly because once my breast became accustomed to the baby, they stopped responding to the pump at all. I was never able to get more than ounce on either side after having the baby home for a few months. But that was okay because we went on to feed on demand for twenty-nine months. I only weaned her because I’m now pregnant with my second and supply had dwindled so much and it was becoming very painful. I was developing a bit of an aversion. She did great though. She cried in my arms when I wouldn’t let her nurse to sleep for her nap that first day. I gave in that first night and let her nurse to sleep. The next day, she skipped her nap altogether but that night she only cried in my arms for about 5 minutes before falling asleep and sleeping all through the night for the first time in her life! The next day and night she didn’t even ask or look for my breast.
Now one of the problems I encountered during my experience over that first year was blocked ducts. I had that problem several times. Thankfully, I never developed an infection and typically they cleared up in a day or two. Apparently, I was overproducing. I was drinking mother’s milk tea and eating oatmeal every day. I wanted to make sure I was producing enough, and I was producing more than enough. More than my little preemie ever needed or could have used. Once I figured that out and stopped, the blocked ducts never came back.
I was the only person that I knew personally that breastfed. My mother hadn’t, three of my older sisters that had 8 children between them, hadn’t. None of friends, no one. I was alone. I relied heavily on the online breastfeeding community and my husband was my biggest supporter and cheerleader. He was adamant that his baby girl would never know the taste of formula! I also read Ina Mae Gaskins book on breastfeeding, it was like the bible for me. My grandmother, my mother’s mother was a big supporter when my daughter was well past one year and people were judging me and asking me when I was going to stop. I never set a stop date, I always said I would nurse her as long as I could. My grandmother shut everyone around me down my announcing that my daughter would probably be more than two and half before she weaned and that there was nothing wrong with that. I had forgotten that she was of a generation that nursed their babies because that was the norm. In year in a half it not occur to me to call her with any questions or anything. We don’t live near each other, I wasn’t raised around her and we are that close but in hindsight, it occurs to me that I should have had her on speed dial! I will never make that mistake again. She has been a wealth of knowledge. She says she can’t understand who thought it was a good idea to tell women that they need to wean their babies at one year. And I agree.
Now that I’m pregnant again, due November 3, 2014 and I am looking forward to nursing another little girl for as long as I can. Again, I’m not setting a stop date. I’m armed with all kinds of knowledge and experience now and I’m so excited to share my story with any and everyone.
I don’t know how or when I decided to breastfeed. It just seemed like something I would do by default and then if I couldn’t then I would formula feed. I didn’t become pregnant until I was 34, many, many years after my sisters, who all had their children by 2000. I imagine the attitude towards breastfeeding has changed dramatically. While there is still a long fight ahead of us to normalize it, it is certainly far more common and not as taboo as it was when I was a child or watching my big sisters with their kids in the 90’s. I can’t say that I would have breastfed if I had had my baby ten or more years earlier. I thankful for all of the information and the change in perception. I strongly believe that breastfeeding is what led my preemie to having such an amazing outcome.
My nutrition counselor at the WIC office has asked if I would be interested in becoming a peer lactation counselor, because breastfeeding for 29 month is rare, especially in our community. They train you, pay you and everything. I think I’m going to do it!