Saturday, October 23, 2010

Post- NICU Breastfeeding Success

Baby Tess turned a corner and started breastfeeding normally. We're now at about 80% on the breast and 20% with formula. Who ever suggested the "nipple shield", thank you! The lactation consultant from Children's Hospital had mentioned that tip "as a last resort." Once I realized that it only cost $7, I ordered that sent to me via express mail from Target. That really helped us. I nicknamed it my "easy latch" system.

I didn't find any breastfeeding help posts which mentioned the problem Baby Tess had developed in the NICU- so I'll spell it out here. I had a kid who was breastfeeding normally at home, until she got sick. Each time I got her back on the breast, there would be a medical emergency which kept her from eating normally for a few days to a few weeks.

The last hospitalization really set my Tess over the edge. I had a "eating normally" kid, who suddenly was forced to fast for 15 HOURS. (During Tessy's heart problem episode no doctors wanted to okay bottle feeding until they were sure Baby Tess won't need emergency heart surgery for arrhythmia. God Bless Doctor K who finally said, "give that baby some food, her heartbeat rhythm is fine).

When I got my Baby home, breastfeeding was awful. My kid would wake herself up from a deep sleep- screaming for food. She wasn't interested in the breast. My baby wanted her food NOW --breastmilk from a bottle.

I didn't realize at the time how stressed out my kid was after her NICU stay. In the NICU, you feed on a regular schedule. The nurse doesn't look at you carefully each time you stick out your adorable little tongue and see if you "might" be extra hungry. Because my kid was one of the healthier babies in the NICU, she basically got ignored towards the end. We understand why a healthy Baby Tess got overlooked by her NICU nurse sometimes for the desperately ill baby next door. The downside, however, is that Baby Tess come home thinking that the only way she could summon food was to scream loudly for it.

I also hadn't realized how extremely stressed out I was after the NICU experience. Breastfeeding suddenly had an extra emotional take to it. My "failure" to reintroduce breastfeeding seemed like one more way that Baby Tess had her happy babymoon taken from her due to illness.

What really helped me was to break a bunch of La Leche rules. We ran out of "extra" frozen breastmilk within the first few days at home. For a week, I pumped before each and every feeding and fed Tess fresh breast milk I hated it. Pumping milk with a baby screaming for food was miserable. I introduced formula to Baby Tess to supplement the pure breastmilk bottle feedings. I still pumped as much as I could. Having my husband feed Tess a few bottles of formula a day, however, really took the edge of my pumping stress.

Mentally, I had to cross the line that we might not get breastfeeding back and that was okay. I stopped defining our lack of breastfeeding as a post-NICU failure. Instead, I reframed it as a "success." It was success that I could pump for a full month while my baby girl couldn't eat in the NICU. It was a success that my baby had breastmilk to eat after her abdominal surgery.

I started taking our breastfeeding journey one day at a time. "Today I fed Tess X number of breastmilk bottles." Each extra day of breastfeeding was a big success.

Sometime between week 2 and week 3 post-NICU, Baby Tess started feeling relaxed enough to breastfeed from the source instead of the bottle. My little "easy latch" system helped her immensely. If she could eat immediately, instead of fumble for a good latch, she was much happier.

I followed my lactation consultants recommendation to let a big 1 month old girl feed like a little newborn. Baby Tess got to eat solely from her favorite side. I tolerated really bad latches without making her "redo" them. Suddenly, my kid just 'got it.' She now prefers to eat the normal way, without the nipple shield.

Thank you for your prayers! My new slogan for breastfeeding and life in general is "Pure patience alone will get you 80% towards your goal."


  1. You did not break a bunch of "La Leche" rules my did just the right thing by watching your baby for what SHE needed (quick feedings) and following the 2 cardinal rules for dealing with difficult newborn nursing situations (these are pretty new in the BF world, the last 2 years or so)...#1 FEED the baby. #2 PROTECT mom's milk supply. You are doing a great job!!
    Also just wanted you to know how your blog has been a great source of spiritual support for me as I have gone back and read all your older posts! God bless!

  2. I am so glad everything is falling into place. You sound like you handled the breast feeding difficulties perfectly! I have recently found out myself that sometimes we need to do what's best for our own unique circumstances.

    God bless your family!

  3. Hey, I'm a LLL Leader and I wouldn't say you broke the rules at all! Nipple shields do help tremendously in some cases (even if some nurses overuse them), this is exactly the sort of case that they help. I'd even recommended mom not wean off them to quickly.

    I'm not sure who told you to pump before feeding the baby (which would seem to be tremendously stressful), but my co-Leader and I were just talking the other night about how stressful combining pumping and bottling was. It takes at least twice as much time as direct nursing, so anything that you could do to feed the baby and protect your milk supply while Tess was getting back to straight nursing was just fine. What I (as a former mom of a nipple shield baby) will tell you is that you'll never think of normal nursing as a given again. You'll always in one part of your brain see it as the real miracle it is. You and Tess have had a hard month, isn't it nice to just be back to ordinary babyhood?

  4. I am so thrilled for you! As you would chronicle your NICU journey I really worried for you about what would happen with breastfeeding.

    When my first son was born he was tongue-tied and also had pretty flaccid muscles in his mouth and could not suck, though we did not discover the real cause for weeks. I would go to La Leche meetings and bottlefeed and it would break my heart because we could not figure out what was wrong. One of my three lactation consultants saw him not eating off the bottle correctly either and figured it out.

    So when he was 6 weeks old we drove him to an oral feeding specialist 4 hours away. We were given muscle building exercises for his mouth and had an ordeal to get the insurance to approve occupational therapy for his mouth.

    All during this time I pumped as best I could. I was a new mom and it was a really hard and extremely stressful time for me. One day I actually got 8oz in one day. I wept and wept and my baby never did breastfeed. It was hard to stop trying, but eventually my La Leche leader pretty much gave me the permission to stop trying.

    8 years later and finally another baby came and Praise God he could nurse and did so for several years and it was a joy for both of us. BUT I was always worried until he was about 2 that something would happen and we would have to be separated (like a hospital visit) and our nursing relationship would be disrupted.

    I am SO glad it has all worked out and you can finally relax. Thank you so much for this blog. It has really sparked my interest in Carmelite spirituality. God Bless!

  5. Yea! I'm so happy the nipple shields worked for you!