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Blessings in Surprise

Renea C. Frey
Cincinnati OH USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 23 No 4, July-August 2006, pp. 164-165.

I don't recall making the decision to breastfeed. I always knew that I would if I ever had a child. If I ever had a child…that was the real question.

My husband and I had been discussing the possibility for a few years when suddenly, surprisingly, I found that I was pregnant. We were thrilled about the prospect of becoming parents, but we were in for more surprises.

Ten weeks early, my water broke and I went into labor; 34 hours later my daughter, Maitreya, arrived. She was larger than expected (over four pounds) and very healthy for her phase of development. Nevertheless, she had to spend the next month in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) as she continued the work of the growing she had begun in my womb.

When I reached the recovery floor after delivery, I was asked whether I intended to breastfeed. I said yes, and a breast pump quickly arrived. A nurse gave me instructions on how to use it, reiterating that my milk was the healthiest source of nutrition for my baby. She advised me to keep anything I was able to collect—she said that even a few drops of colostrum would be beneficial to my daughter.

Every three hours, day and night, I pumped my milk for Maitreya, carefully labeling each bottle and proudly delivering it to the NICU so that she would always have plenty to eat. I gave myself pep talks, reminding myself over and over how important this was for my daughter, how her health and well-being depended upon me. It helped me get through this time knowing that I really was able to contribute to her care. Though Maitreya was surrounded by a myriad of machines and high-tech monitors, it was my milk that would best ensure her ongoing good health and growth. I spent many hours every day with her in the hospital, with her lying skin-to-skin on my chest. Through this time I stayed relaxed and trusted the process, knowing that eventually we would work together to have her fully breastfeeding.

After she came home with us, I continued to pump my milk on the same schedule, only now I would feed her, too. Sometimes she could latch on, sometimes she couldn't. I made sure that she got enough to eat one way or another, then pumped the rest of my milk for later use.

My husband was a great source of support through this time, often awakening with me during the night to give bottles and change diapers while I pumped. He was very committed to the process of breastfeeding and did everything he could to help balance the demands placed upon my time with the fact that I needed to get enough rest in order to maintain my health and milk supply.

Eventually, Maitreya began to have an easier time latching on and was being supplemented less with my milk in a bottle. At this point, my supply greatly exceeded her demand. I was used to producing more than double what she needed to consume every day, so I continued to pump after her feedings to avoid engorgement.

It took many weeks to make the transition over to fully breastfeeding without needing to pump. Approximately every three hours, I breastfed Maitreya first, gauging how strongly she latched on and how much milk she was able to get. If she was tired or having trouble, we gave her a bottle of my milk, then snuggled her back into our bed with us. Afterwards, I pumped whatever was left.

This process often took an hour and half, and was then repeated an hour and a half later. Though it seems daunting when I look back on it, at the time it was the easiest and most natural thing to do. I knew that every minute of this process was time well spent, and I watched as Maitreya continued to thrive and enjoy exceptionally good health.

I remember the first night that she nursed several times and we didn't need to get up. It was so peaceful. She and I lay together through the night with her nursing whenever she was hungry. No pumps, no bottles, no bright lights invading the quiet darkness. Even though it was weeks before that happened again, it gave me positive proof that this effort was definitely worth it.

As time went on, her appetite and strength increased while I slowly decreased the amount of milk I needed to pump after feedings. After several weeks of this transition, I put away my pump and was able to concentrate on the very natural process of snuggling my daughter at the breast many, many times a day. She very much preferred to get her milk directly from me, and I certainly thought that she was cuter than any breast pump.

I was very lucky that the lactation consultant who had been so supportive while we were in the hospital also happened to be a La Leche League Leader. During this time, I started going to meetings and got the information and support that helped us make this transition smoothly and with patience.

I believe that the level of touch we were able to incorporate early in her care, even before she was able to breastfeed, helped us to make the transition from feeding tube to bottle to breast. As we enjoyed our ongoing breastfeeding relationship, we continued the close physical contact that is so beneficial to the health and development of a growing child.

Having a premature baby can be a scary experience, and providing her milk is one of the most important ways in which a mother can contribute to her baby's health and welfare. Our experience was so wholly positive that I want to be able to encourage other mothers who may be going through a similar time, to support them in their efforts, and to let them know that the process is worth it.

Though breastfeeding a premie may take extra effort, the benefits last a lifetime for both mother and baby.

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