Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Lindsay Gibson, Randburg, South Africa
The Swahili saying “It takes more than one hand to nurse a child” is even more appropriate than the proverb “It takes a village to raise a child.” My story involved many helpers.
My husband and I were happily preparing for the birth of our precious baby. When I started having pains at 29 weeks, I was convinced it was another urinary tract infection. My husband took me to the maternity unit. The UTI was confirmed. I was given antibiotics and sent home.
The pain intensified over the next hour and we rushed back to the hospital. The midwife did a brief examination and found I was fully dilated. A few minutes later baby Dominic arrived! He weighed only 1,46kg so he was rushed to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. He was placed on a ventilator in an open incubator and began the fight for his life.
The nurses made it clear how vitally important it was for Dominic to receive my breast milk as soon as possible. Providing my milk was the only thing I had any control over. My milk provided his best chance to avoid life-threatening infections.
My supportive husband rushed out to buy a breast pump and I got started. Expressing milk was difficult for me. I did not know what I was doing. I tried to follow the directions in the instruction manual, but it wasn’t written for mommies like me who were new to lactating. I labored every two hours to produce just a few drops. Thank goodness for good friends who recommended I contact Brenda Pierce, lactation consultant and LLL Leader. In a few days with help and reassurance, I was expressing more than enough for my baby’s needs.
Expressing milk was difficult for me. I did not know what I was doing.
At the start my baby had only a parenteral nutrition drip delivering his food intravenously. As he matured, he had tiny amounts of breast milk. These were increased as he grew, until he no longer needed the drip.
When Dominic received his feed via a nasogastric tube, sometimes the nurse would dip a tiny pacifier into the milk so that he could taste it to encourage sucking. About five weeks after he was born, my
baby started rooting. This was a clear sign that he was ready to begin feeding orally.
As often as I could, we tried to breastfeed.
Dominic struggled to latch on, which made it a very frustrating and upsetting experience. The nurse, who assessed his suck-swallow-breathe reflex, gave him a bottle. The first bottle he finished with gusto. I burst with pride and everyone in the ward celebrated with us! He was not able to drink a whole feed every time and what remained had to be put into his nasogastric tube. These times were very disappointing for me. I desperately wanted to take my baby home. To start with, he was only given one bottle in a 24-hour period. As he got stronger and was able to take his whole feed, the number of bottles increased until the happy day the tube was removed.
Dominic was in intensive care for seven weeks. His lungs were slow to develop. He was given supplementary oxygen via a nasal cannula until two days before he was discharged. When I got a call to spend the night rooming-in with my baby at the hospital to be discharged the following day, we were very excited! On discharge Dominic weighed 2,7kg.
But we still had not mastered breastfeeding. I was expressing every three or four hours and feeding him with a bottle. This made me very anxious. During my six-week check, my OB/GYN suggested I give up trying to breastfeed because she believed he would not take the breast now he was used to the bottle. I had worked so hard to keep my milk flowing that I was disappointed. However, the loving and pro-breastfeeding nurses were not going to let anyone discourage me. When my baby tried and cried at the breast, I was frustrated too and felt like a failure. One of the nurses brought nipple shields for me. The moment my baby felt the silicone of the shield he thought it was his bottle, latched right on, and fed until he fell asleep. It was amazing! As inconvenient as they were to use, it was wonderful for me to be breastfeeding my beautiful little boy.
I used the shields at just about every feed those first few weeks at home. I tried a few times to wean him off them, but he struggled. When we reached his due date, it was as though he had woken up. He was much stronger and had been putting on weight appropriately. I tried again to wean him off the shield by removing it mid-feed. Dominic caught on quickly and soon we didn’t need the shields any more!
Now my little fighter is being breastfed the ol’ fashioned way by his mommy, putting on weight perfectly, and catching up!
It takes a village
Surrounding myself with a village of people who fully understood breastfeeding and were able to support me was critical to my success. My nurses, lactation consultant, and La Leche League made a huge difference. My supportive husband understood our little boy’s need for breast milk and he made it possible for me to breastfeed. A close friend, who was breastfeeding her own newborn, was always available to encourage me, especially when I wanted to give up.