Starting a Breastfeeding Journey in the NICU

nicu, baby, newborn, premie, doula, doula after infertility, infertility, breastfeeding

Starting a Breastfeeding Journey in the NICU

By Kelli D

June 20th was like any other Wednesday.  I kissed my husband as I headed out the door on my way to my 38-week OB appointment. He jokingly said “You won’t be having a baby today, love you, see you tonight.”  Joke was on him when I called him a few hours later saying my OB consulted with MFM and due to what the suspected (and later confirmed) was cholestasis of the liver, I was being admitted to the birth hospital and an induction was getting started.  Fast forward to after 24 hours on Pitocin, my OB being generous and giving me ½ centimeter dilation, my son’s head ‘high and floating’. With no progress being made, we made the decision for a c-section.  Due to my condition baby needed to come out.  I was still healthy and as far as my OB could tell Wesson was as well.   At 12:45pm on June 21st my husband and I welcomed our son Wesson Mark into the world.  He was born screaming and as soon as I was able to hold him, and because I stated that I’d be breastfeeding, the nurses allowed me to see if he would latch.  He latched right away. 

 It was a couple minutes after that while I was doing skin to skin, a nurse noticed his cry didn’t sound right.  They took him to the nursery (the birth hospital I was at didn’t have a NICU).  A neonatologist was called from a sister hospital to examine Wesson and it was determined that he had fluid in his lungs (TTN) and needed to be transported to the NICU. 

At 6 hours old, my son was taken via ambulance in this contraption that looked like a space ship with a little harness strapped across his 6lb 15oz body and tubes and monitors attached to him, to a NICU 20 minutes away.  He was wheeled into my room so I could sob a goodbye and I love you to my precious son. I begged the ambulance driver to drive slow.  He was driving the most precious cargo he’d ever transported.  My husband followed the ambulance.  

Thankfully in my emotional state of disbelief that my 38-week term baby had just been transported to a NICU, I had a different nurse ask if I was planning on breastfeeding. Yes!!  Of course I was!  My Mom had breastfed my siblings and I, and that was how I was planning on feeding my son.  The nurse brought in a pump and showed me how to work it.  That first pumping session was depressing.  My baby was in the NICU at a different hospital.  Nothing came out.  I was determined to give it my all and not get discouraged. 

I was a college athlete and mentally I’m programmed to beat the opponent.  I had beaten infertility to have my IVF baby, I would do whatever it took to breastfeed my little fighter in the NICU.  

That night I set my alarm for every 2 hours to pump.  The morning of June 22nd, I got enough colostrum for the nurse to put in a syringe for my husband to take the NICU!  It was a small victory that the nurses celebrated with me!  The next day on June 23rdI got a “pass” out of the hospital to go visit Wesson in the NICU.  I pumped at the NICU while sitting in a recliner and staring at my miracle baby.  He wasn’t strong enough to try and breastfeed yet, but they assured me when he was, I’d be able to.  In the meantime, I was determined to provide milk for him.  If he wasn’t strong enough to nurse yet, they could still give him my breastmilk via the ng (feeding) tube.  

I was released from the hospital on June 24th.  On June 25th, Wesson was strong enough to attempt to breastfeed.  I met with a lactation specialist at the NICU. She was so incredibly sweet.  I held Wesson on my chest and he inched his way down and eventually found my breast.  She explained what a good latch was and how to tell if he was getting a nutritive draw of milk vs. non-nutritive sucking. 

Wesson was so fragile and had cords and monitors galore hooked up to his little body.  What if I moved him wrong and an alarm went off?  What if he cried and the hole in his lung that had finally healed, re-punctured itself?  What if he didn’t latch again?  The ‘what if’s’ were overwhelming.  I couldn’t nurse my baby in the comfort of my own home.  Instead it was in the NICU.   

Thankfully Wesson proved to be a hungry boy and loved to breastfeed.  He tired very easily, so we started off doing one feed by breast on the 25th and the others by ng tube.  Day after day I would go and spend time with Wesson. While I was there with him, he would breastfeed.  When I was home (and in the NICU) I would pump and bring the milk to the NICU. Wesson was formula fed the first 3 days in the NICU and once my milk came in, it was breastmilk.   The NICU has standards or amounts that babies need to be eating based on how long they sleep between feeds.  If I wasn’t there to feed him, he would be fed via a bottle and have to take “x” ml’s based on how long he slept. When I was at the NICU, I would breastfeed him and the amount wasn’t monitored.  The nurses asked questions like how long he nursed for, which side, if I had any questions etc…  At one point another lactation specialist came by to see how we were doing and after watching me feed Wesson she goes “you guys have this down.”  Later that day Wesson pulled out his feeding tube. I plead my case to the nurses and Dr. there to leave it out.  I didn’t think eating minimums via bottle should be held against my baby as upon discharge from the NICU, he will be primarily a breastfed baby.  They agreed with me!  They took away his minimums via the bottle and ad lib fed him. 

Wesson was discharged on July 2nd after 11 days in the NICU.  Since coming home Wesson continues to breastfeed like a champ.  At his one-month appointment he had gained 2lbs since birth and his pediatrician assured me I was doing a great job.

I am so thankful my body has allowed me to feed my baby and nourish him. 

I’ve learned a lot in the 6 weeks Wesson has been here.  When there is a will there’s a way.  I had the will to breastfeed and we found a way.  Even with a miracle in the NICU.  

Desirae Whittle