A Look Back On My Breastfeeding Journey
Last July 4, this photo of my little preemie going home after his 111-day stay in Neonatal-ICU (NICU) appeared in my Facebook memory,
Memories of his journey home flashed back at me. It is amazing how 5 years flew by so quickly.
Nothing about my whole birthing experience with Little H can be called conventional, even when it comes to feeding. When he was born 14 weeks before his due date, none of us were prepared. Even my body was not prepared. Two days after giving birth, I had to produce at least half an ounce of milk so they have something to feed my son for the day. However, I was not producing any, not even my colostrum is coming out. I was worried, stressed and anxious. I was desperate for milk. It was an answered prayer when my son’s neonatologist helped by giving me a massage similar to what lactation consultants do, and in a matter of minutes, my milk started to flow, not so much yet but just enough. I literally cried buckets when we delivered his first milk to NICU.
Our feeding struggle did not end at that. Since my son was born at 26 weeks, his sucking reflexes did not fully develop. He does not know how to latch. Furthermore, he was inside the incubator and attached to several IV lines for his multiple medications. Latching is not possible. I had to keep on extracting milk with the help of a breastpump, then store it in feeding bottles and breastmilk bags. Each bag is equivalent to one feeding which are stored inside the NICU freezer.
Going home was a whole new story. A week after giving birth, I had to go home to recuperate, leaving behind my son, who at that time is fighting for his life. It was heart breaking to go home without him. I was an emotional wreck. I also experienced separation anxiety, I wanted to be the one to take care of him. I got worried that he would not know me anymore or that he will feel lonely since I won’t be able to visit him until I was given the clearance to go out of the house. His neonatologist comforted me and reminded me that while at home I should focus on extracting milk for Little H so that when he is strong enough to feed a lot, he has a handful of supply waiting for him. So I continued our cycle: pump-pack-freeze. Then when his supply in the NICU is running out, Daddy S delivers the frozen milk bags stored inside a cooler.
Aside from producing food for my son, extracting milk has been my anchor from those difficult moments. During his stay in NICU, we would get news about his health, sometimes even doctors telling us he might not make it. He will survive a major scare, and then fight another one after a couple of days. As a mom, it breaks my heart all the time and several times I worry non-stop. Producing milk for my son was my constant reminder to not dwell on my fears and find every little things to be happy about. I felt that my body is responding to the stress by producing less milk, and thus, I reminded myself that while my son is literally fighting to be alive every single day of his life, I too, should help him by not only giving him enough milk but more so a healthy and nutritious one. Producing milk for my son is not only my son’s lifeline, but mine as well.
After two weeks of resting at home, I was finally allowed to visit my son on a daily basis. It was the highlight of my day. I would talk to him, read a story and sing for him. I would remind him to always finish his milk, which is being fed to him via tube. It was an everyday routine, and on weekends, my firstborn EA, will join us when we visit his brother.
When Little H was strong enough to be taken out of the incubator, we tried direct feeding by latching. Sadly with the lack of sucking reflexes, his latch was not strong enough to produce any milk. But even though we were not successful in feeding him, I am still looking forward to our latching session as our special bonding moment. It became something that I look forward to when I visit him everyday in NICU.
When he was allowed to go home, he was already feeding breastmilk on his own in a bottle but mixed with cereals to thicken the milk because he has reflux. I initially thought that since he is not feeding directly from my breast, my milk production will diminish. But I was thankful that it did not because even when i returned to work, I continued pumping milk every 3-4 hours. It was such a joy going home with a fresh batch of milk in my bag.
This whole journey from birth to going home took 111 days. Looking back at it now, I am appreciative more than ever, of the responsibility and privilege to be the source of my son’s nutrients which strengthened him in his daily battle to survive. Not giving up on producing milk despite the obstacles is probably the best decision that I had ever made in my life for it has saved both me and my son.
I hope my Honest story inspires you. I would love to hear your breastfeeding stories as well . More judgment-free feeding stories from moms are can be found at Honest.com. Happy feeding!