Monday, November 28, 2011

My son Kevin was born at 26 weeks, 4 days. Before he was born I admit to having very set feelings about breastfeeding. I was going to be a breastfeeding champ. I would nurse him for 12 months, maybe more.

My aunt was a lactation consultant at the hospital where I delivered so by the time I got back to my room after the c-section a hospital grade breast pump was already there waiting for me. I was determined to pump, in part to make up for my body failing the pregnancy. This was the one thing I could do right for my son and that idea, that this was the “One thing [I] could do” was drilled into me over and over by doctors, nurses and lactation consultants.

But my body failed to cooperate once again. It was probably partly due to ill fitting equipment (quickly rectified) and bad advice (one awful night nurse who laughed when I thought my milk had come in. It had. She was wrong) but mostly it was just the situation. I was trying very hard to keep it together as my son clung to life for the first few weeks and all the advice I read was to “think of your baby while you pump” or “pump while surrounded by your baby’s things” or “pump while looking at a picture of your baby”. Surrounded by your baby’s things? His nursery was still a guest bedroom. I tried to look at pictures of Kevin and to think of him while I pumped but I simply dissolved into tears and my husband would then walk in on his nutso wife double pumping and sobbing.

I agonized over the fact that, again, my body wasn’t cooperating – much as my body failed to maintain my pregnancy, it failed to generate enough milk. I stopped pumping six weeks after my son was born. That's it. Six weeks. I just knew it wasn't working for me (I was excited to get 20 mls - that's not even an ounce) and I knew it would be a very long time still until we could try breast feeding.

It was the hardest decision I ever made. Ever. I'm not even exaggerating a little bit.

So I researched breastfeeding / pumping and micro preemies. I found that only 25% (approx, I don't remember the exact number but under 30%) of moms where the baby was born before 28 weeks are able to pump longer than a month (or so - again, I forget the exact number) but the point was my son had months ahead of him in the NICU and I had to stop for my own sanity.

And even knowing all that I still felt like this was the one thing I could control and once again I was failing him. And worse, I was choosing to fail him this time because I wasn't hooking myself to that pump 24/7.

I grieved. I never grieved how my pregnancy ended or even asked "Why me?" about anything but pumping.

Around the four week mark the writing was pretty much on the wall. I still did everything to try to get my production up. I drank tons of water, I tried self expressing, I used a hospital grade pump, I spoke with both my OB and my favorite Neo about anything I could take that would improve my output and would be safe for my son.

Nothing helped and I was sinking further into depression – not PPD or depression related to my son being in a life and death situation. Depression about pumping. I spoke to my husband and he was very clear, he appreciated that I was doing my best and he fully supported me with whatever decision I made.

For the next two weeks I pumped less, I gave up the overnight pumping to allow myself a decent night sleep and I slowly became a more sane person. And then, at the six week mark, I stopped.

For the next two weeks I questioned my decision but I knew deep down it was the right call for me.

Kevin continued to receive donated milk – even receiving some that was specially fortified and cost an astronomical sum. And then he transitioned to formula and continued to grow like a weed. He came off the respirator at 64 days, spent a week on CPAP and then was on high flow nasal cannula until the week before his discharge. He has reflux and BPD.

Today Kevin is just under 12 months old and continues to receive Neosure (at the 26 calorie recipe) and is just beginning solids.


eMiLee said...

Your story sounds SO similar to mine. I'm at almost 7 weeks pp and struggling with whether it's worth it to keep pumping when I get so very little.

I'm actually really interested in finding out more about the research you did on micropreemies and pumping. Can you point me in the right direction?

Alison said...

Darn it. I'm having trouble finding it but it's on this site somewhere - I linked to a study showing the decline of expressed breastmilk in VLBW infants. Basically the upshot of both studies is that pumping declines as the NICU stay extends. I'm still searching for the original article I found. I wish I'd bookmarked it at the time.

Julia Greer Photography said...

Reading your article has been a huge relief to me. My 29-weeker is about to turn 6 months actual and I still feel plagued by guilt that I stopped pumping. I was able to give him 100% breast milk until close to his due date, but my supply tanked once he was home. I hobbled along for two more months, trying everything to relactate... I spent $740 on pumps (including hospital-grade rental) and who knows how much on herbs and medication to help me increase my supply.

When I realized I was getting less than an ounce per day TOTAL, in spite of all my efforts, I knew it was time to hang it up.

The worst of it was that my baby finally "got" breastfeeding just when my supply tanked. When I had to give him formula, he kept trying to nurse instead... then when I'd try to breastfeed, he'd get so upset after a few minutes when nothing was coming out. It was heartbreaking.

I'm glad we're not alone in this... thank you for sharing your story.

Ash said...

My son was born at 31 weeks. I was very strong for his sake, until it was time to pump again. I pumped 12 times a day and dreaded to look at the empty bottles that sat below my breasts. I cried all of the time.

Every day, at the hospital, I brought a bag full of almost empty containers. Every nurse looked at me with a half-smile as they carried the weightless bag to the fridge.

I stopped at 6 weeks too. I still wish I could have produced more but do not regret quitting, as it meant I had more time to concentrate on his well-being.

Thank you for sharing your story! It's so nice to hear others who have been in the same situation!

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