I met my baby! How to breastfeed a premature baby
The day after baby S was born, Mr B came to see me first thing in the morning and practically carried me to the NICU, where our baby was. He was still in the incubator, out of precaution as he was born healthy and with a good weight and I got to hold him for the first time. The happiness I felt is one I can’t find the words to describe, try as I may. That smell… the heat that came from his body. Tears came to my eyes (you’ll notice that this happened a lot in these initial times). I put him against my breast and clever being that he is, he started to suckle. I wasn’t producing any milk yet at the time, but even if I were, preemies get tired very quickly and so he sucked 4 times and stopped. But he sucked, damnit! And that was enough for me at the time. There you have it again: one step at a time. We were going to make it, together, I was sure of that and when doubt reared in its ugly head – and it did so quite often – I sent it along its way and concentrated on my baby. I trusted him. I trusted us.
Things were easier while I was in hospital – I would express up in my room and take it to my baby. I was with him anytime I wanted, as well as Mr B. I’ll take this opportunity to say that when a mother breastfeeds, in fact it’s her whole family that breastfeeds too – support at home is crucial. The first time I went to a local breastfeeding support group at the ante- and post-natal care clinic where I’d taken my course, I saw a couple. It would be interesting if there were more couples attending these groups, because we never breastfeed alone and I will say it again: I would’ve never gotten to where I did without support.
I faced the greatest challenge of all once I was discharged from hospital. Coming home without our baby is something I don’t wish upon my worst enemy. That first impact is core-wrenching. I remember standing in the middle of Baby S’s room, literally crying my heart out, sobs I’d never heard come out of my body, holding on to Mr B, who was doing the best he could to soothe me. I needed to calm down, because I’d have to keep up my grueling schedule for expressing milk – every 3 hours, 15 minutes on each breast. I had my milk let-down around this time, perhaps the following day. All of a sudden, I was expressing 70 ml in one go, for a baby who hardly drank 30. My breasts were hard, engorged, tender… even more so because expressing is not natural, as it would be had I had my baby feeding what he needed to be fed. I was producing what my body thought it should produce, without a baby to guide it. The nurses at the hospital, the lactation consultants, they all helped loads. Massage, support, tips – they were relentless in their help. I tried to do as they’d taught me, but on my own I suddenly felt lost. The baths, the massage, expressing, applying cold compresses… a lot of cold… My breasts were swollen and so I would have to reduce the swelling. I had a first mastitis, my right breast. Looking back, it was only a clogged duct as I didn’t run a fever or feel generally ill. But I was prescribed an antibiotic and if a pharmacist hadn’t intervened, I could’ve dried up my milk supply accidentally. You see, the doctor at the hospital told me to take a couple of pills (I don’t recall the name) used to dry up your milk supply, claiming it was to thin my milk out. Luckily, she didn’t have them on hand so sent me to the chemist’s. It was a hand that watched over me – the pharmacist wouldn’t sell me the pills, told me not to risk it. And so I didn’t. The situation was made better with massage by a nurse. Goodness, was this painful! Yet you think I’m done? Mr. B had to drive me into hospital to see my son at 3 am because I wasn’t able to express any milk and my breasts were so full they were at risk of exploding. The nurse at the NICU looked at us in amazement but turns out it’s quite common for a mother to not be able to express. She told me to take artificial oxytocin, a hormone released that relaxes us, but nothing beats the real deal…There, staring at Baby S who was now in a crib (he’d only been in the incubator for 2 days), I expressed enough for the following two feeds. Our routine those days was as follows: get up in the morning, head over to hospital, have lunch there, stay with the baby, take care of him (changing nappies, bathing, feeding, etc), have a lot of skin on skin contact, return home for dinner, express during the night, store the milk in glass containers and take them in the following morning. It was like this for 10 days. And then, Baby S, who’d only stayed in hospital because he couldn’t feed on his own, was discharged. Oh, the joy! Our baby was coming home.