Lives in: Swansea, Massachusetts
Breastfeeding experience: Caught off-guard by difficulties, but persisted and felt proud of what she accomplished
Main challenges: Preemie baby; had to rely on formula for a while
Breastfed for: 14 months
I work at a hospital that actively promotes breastfeeding. As part of my job as a licensed dietitian, I read a 300-page manual on breastfeeding practices. So I thought I had it all figured out well before I had my son. Then Cameron was born a month early and transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Everything I thought I knew went out the window.
The first sign things would go differently for us was after Cameron was handed over for skin-to-skin contact to initiate breastfeeding. He showed absolutely no interest. He didn't even search for the breast.
I knew nursing doesn't always happen right away. What worried me was that he wasn't breathing all that well either. That's when the doctors took him to the NICU. They checked his breathing, tested his blood sugar, took his temperature, and put him under a heat lamp while I rested.
About nine hours later I met with a lactation consultant and learned how to use the pump so I could feed Cameron my breast milk from a bottle, which they said might be easier for him. I reviewed the pumping process again with another expert when I visited him in the NICU. Both suggested I use a nipple shield, which can make it easier for preemies to latch on. We tried it and he latched on but had to work pretty hard to get anything. Apparently, this is often the case with babies who have respiratory issues. In hindsight I think the shield just made it harder for him.
After three days in the NICU, we left the hospital. He still had trouble nursing so I was feeding him the colostrum I was able to pump and supplementing it with formula.
It wasn't easy being home on my own. The word that comes to mind when I think of nursing him then? Combative. While trying to latch onto me, his arms flailed and he sometimes scratched me. After 10 to 15 minutes of this, my husband would take him and feed him formula while I pumped milk, which I'd then give him in a bottle. I basically just felt like, whatever it takes, let's make sure he's fed.
When he was a month old I finally just quit the nipple shield to see what would happen – and he latched! It took a couple of days, but I couldn't believe I'd kept up pumping for an entire month and now there was an end in sight!
Still it took time for me to feel confident that he didn't also need formula. I'd nurse him and, if he still cried, I'd top off a feeding with 2 or 3 ounces of formula. Eventually I learned to trust what my body was doing and, over time, decreased the amount of formula he was getting. By month three he was exclusively on breast milk.
I went back to work after 15 weeks and pumped two to three times a day during work hours. In the hospital I have the luxury of a pump room with hospital-grade pumps, lounge chairs, and a window view.
When Cameron was 12 months old, he was eating table food and I finally stopped pumping at work. I tried to continue breastfeeding at night but he didn't really show interest. He'd latch and then unlatch after a few minutes. By 14 months, he had weaned himself.
My biggest lesson learned
Be confident that your body really can do the job. Breastfeeding was the hardest thing I've ever done but I feel like I rocked it. It was so rewarding when he finally latched on.
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