By Rebeca Torres, from Jalisco, Mexico
(Spanish version: Mi bebé prematuro)
At first I thought: Nothing to worry, this is just a little intestinal gas. But as my stomach pains increased, I realized I was feeling real contractions. My husband rushed to leave work and take me to the doctor. I couldn’t believe it; I was already dilated four centimeters! As I was rushed to the hospital, I felt the contractions like clockwork—every five minutes. When we arrived at the hospital I was already dilated seven centimeters, and the doctors said my baby needed to be born—now. But I was very frightened because in the ultrasound my baby appeared to be a mere 28 weeks, not 31 weeks as I had thought. This was going to be a premature baby.
“The worst night of my life”
In rapid time my tiny baby boy entered the world, weighing just 1,210 kg (2 lbs., 11 oz.) and measuring 36 cm (14.17 inches) long. Immediately after birth, he was rushed away by hospital staff for monitoring. The hospital staff would not let me hold or even see little Lucas. When I asked why, the pediatrician said he was very delicate. At that moment they moved me to another room and I started screaming and crying like crazy for my baby. They had to move me to intensive care because my blood pressure was out of control. I asked everyone I met, “Where is my baby?” Nobody gave me any reasons for Lucas being whisked away. It was the worst night of my life.
It wasn’t until the next hospital visiting hour that my husband told me he had seen Lucas, small and full of tubes, but alive. I felt a little calmer. Not until I was going to be discharged from the hospital would I be allowed to meet him—my precious baby, in an incubator full of devices, all red and so tiny. I felt helpless not being able to do anything. I just knew I would do anything for him. That’s when I realized I could do something. I could give him breastmilk. That would be the best thing I could do for him!
Heading home empty-handed
So with a broken heart I left the maternity ward of the hospital empty-handed, but with a purpose—to bring Lucas my breastmilk every day while he was in the hospital. It was not easy because I didn’t know how to express my milk at first. But I am thankful for a lactation consultant who helped me learn how to remove the first drops of colostrum—scarcely eight drops, I can still recall—but I knew each drop would be like liquid gold for my baby. So the next day I was more confident with my syringe as the lactation consultant had showed me. I continued to remove breastmilk every three hours. And little by little, my body produced more milk.
More challenges to conquer
An infection, trouble eating, and continued low weight stretched Lucas’ days at the hospital to 12 days. At first breastfeeding was very difficult because he got tired so easily when sucking. His oxygen saturation fell, he was anemic, and they had to transfuse him. But kangaroo care—holding him close to the heat of our skin—made a world of difference.
Some nurses fed him in a glass or syringe, while others gave him in a bottle—which seemed to cause him to be confused when nursing at my breast. When I nursed him, he breastfed very little, so the nurses had to complete the feeding with a bottle of my expressed milk.
But there were more struggles ahead. Lucas became dehydrated—as indicated by the surprising red urate crystals that we discovered in his diaper—and my nipples became cracked. Although I had to supplement some with formula, I was still committed to providing as much breastmilk as I could to meet his needs. Two lactation consultants helped me. They helped me correct the latch and encouraged me to keep on breastfeeding, so that as time went on his confusion about the breast not being as fast as a bottle’s flow would be eliminated.
A hernia, not breastfeeding, is to blame
Then there was another complication. He had a hernia in his groin, which grew because he kept crying a lot and rarely slept to heal. The hospital staff kept thinking he was crying because I didn’t adequately feed him, but I knew it was because of the hernia, which was confirmed after he had surgery because he started eating and sleeping more.
Before the operation I went back to work, so I started my milk bank ahead of time and pumped my milk twice a day. Although his pediatrician advises that I supplement some with formula as he is still underweight, his primary food is still breastmilk.
Revising my definition of success
My baby is about to turn a year and thank God I am still breastfeeding. I have learned that motherhood is not easy at all. Some are luckier and achieve successful breastfeeding from the very beginning. Others like me have to fight more. But putting forth your best effort is what counts. That’s why in spite of so many complications and needing to supplement a little with formula, I realize I am still successfully breastfeeding. I am so proud to say that our family surpassed all these challenges, and my son and I formed a connection that I wouldn’t change for anything.