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Premature Baby, Breastfeeding Toddler Mothers' Stories
Caroline van Nierop, Curaçao, Netherlands, Antilles


My premature baby

My daughter, Mare, who is almost three years old now, is still enjoying “mama-drinking” a few times a day (and night). Who could have imagined this, knowing the difficult start she had?

At 27 weeks into my pregnancy my water broke and I was confined to hospital. At 32 weeks my baby was born, weighing just 1800 grams, and she was put into an incubator. I wanted more than anything to breastfeed her.

Caroline Van Nierop

Caroline Van Nierop

Though there was enough milk, the doctors told me she wasn’t able to drink it from my breasts. And I wasn’t encouraged to try because they wouldn’t know how much milk she was getting. So my milk was delivered by tube to her stomach. If I knew back then what I know now about breastfeeding and mother’s milk, I would have been more assertive about asking to try.

If I knew back then what I know now about breastfeeding and mother’s milk, I would have been more assertive about asking to try.

A week after her birth, Mare suffered necrotizing entercolitis (NEC), a serious gastrointestinal disease that mostly affects premature infants and involves infection and inflammation that cause destruction of the bowel or part of it. My baby couldn’t have any milk at all.

I had a strong feeling of failure for having given birth too early and for not being there for Mare all the time she was in hospital. It was a heartbreaking period. I was afraid that she wouldn’t fight off the infection. I was still pumping milk “for nothing” and had a freezer full already. I was not able to hold her, let alone feed her.

But one week later Mare became stronger and recovered from the infection. Finally I was allowed to latch her on. I was looking forward to that moment, but again met with disappointment. She was used to drinking from bottles and sucking on pacifiers and didn’t know how to suckle a breast. The shape and firmer feel of a pacifier and bottle teat differ from a pliable breast. Some babies prefer the stronger sucking trigger of an artificial nipple, leading to confusion about how to nurse at the softer breast. Ironically she had been given the pacifiers to preserve the sucking reflex.

During the almost six weeks in hospital breastfeeding did not go well. I was very sad and frustrated, but at the same time determined that I would breastfeed. Once back home we kept on trying. My husband was extremely supportive because he understood how important it was for me to at least do this right.

At the due date of her birth, almost eight weeks after she was born, I tried to breastfeed Mare before giving her my expressed milk in a bottle. At that time I was almost ready to accept that breastfeeding was not meant for us, but that afternoon she latched on very well, and drank for almost half an hour with loud gulping sounds, which I had never heard before. From that day she nursed as if she had never done any differently and I never used the pump again! In fact, Mare became an avid nurser, really needing the closeness, rest and attention, not to forget the nutrition and antibodies that breastfeeding provides.

My breastfeeding toddler

People have stopped asking when are we going to stop. They know the answer by now: when Mare is ready to do so. She still nurses in public sometimes and her favorite place to nurse is at the seaside with her feet in the water. I am very proud that I can give this gift to my daughter.



Breastfeeding Premature Babies


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