My Breastfeeding Journey for National Breastfeeding Week 2019
I would like to share with you my experience of "Breastfeeding" - I'm sure it is one many of you won't have experienced and hopefully never will.
I fell pregnant with twins and had a great pregnancy, not too much sickness, a lovely growing bump and no problems, unfortunately only until 26 weeks! My beautiful boys arrived weighing 1 lb 13 oz and 1 lb 15 oz at just over 3 months early!
For those of you who have had premature babies I'm sure this will bring back some difficult memories, and for those of you who haven't had the unfortunate experience, hopefully you will find my experiences enlightening.
When you have premature babies, as with full term babies, you are obviously encouraged to breastfeed. I think it is more vital that premature babies are given that extra boost to their immune systems even more so than full term babies, in fact they need every bit of help they can get.
When I was encouraged to "breastfeed" I wasn't aware of the battle that lay ahead of me, both physically and emotionally.
For the first few days of their lives, my boys were not ready to receive milk, they were on ventilators with every kind of wire and needle both coming in and out of their tiny bodies. That gave me a few days to get my body ready for when they needed the milk.
At 26 weeks pregnant the last thing your body is thinking about (especially with your first pregnancy) is producing milk. It doesn't come naturally. I had to force my body to produce milk, literally one drip at a time.
I still remember vividly (13 years later) sitting in my hospital room with my husband, a nurse and a syringe. I literally had to hold my breast and squeeze my nipple until the tiniest drop of milk appeared and my husband poised with the syringe, sucking it up in to the syringe, half a millilitre at a time. It was so precious that not even a drop could be wasted.
It was horrible. I wasn't meant to be doing this, everything felt wrong yet in the meantime my boys were fighting for their lives in the next room and giving them my milk was all I could do to help.
After about 2 days of the drips and syringes my milk finally came in - for the first time in my life I had big boobs - really big boobs!
By this time my boys had started to receive the milk intravenously, I think from memory, 4ml every 3 hours. It wasn't a huge amount but the pressure was on for me, emotionally anyway.
From day one I was determined that my boys wouldn't have to have formula milk and I put huge pressure on myself to make sure I could supply them with only breast milk for as long as possible - it was all I could do for them.
So I started pumping!
I'm sure those of you reading this who have used a hospital breast pump will empathise when I say it is a bit like being hooked up to a generator - noisy, mechanical and quite amusing! I literally felt like a cow being milked, in fact my father-in-law nicknamed me "Daisy" as he wasn't allowed in the room during a pumping session! Breastfeeding can be done discreetly in the company of others but unfortunately being hooked up to a large electric breast pump is far from discreet!
I pumped every 3 hours, day and night, without fail.
My milk supply started to increase slightly and everything was going well. I started to build up a stock of milk in tiny pots which were frozen in the neonatal unit freezer ready for when the boys needed it.
After a few weeks I was still living at the hospital and pumping every three hours and the boys milk needs were starting to pick up and increase in volume every day. This is when I started to feel the pressure, especially when my milk started to dry up. If I'd had a particularly emotional day or not eaten very much, I'd struggle to fill half a pot every time I pumped and the more I tried, the worse it got.
My boys stayed in the neonatal unit at hospital for 3 months, during which time I battled to produce just enough milk to ensure they were fully breastfed. I only stayed in hospital with them for the first month and then travelled from home every day for the next 2 months. I took home with me my new found friend - my industrial strength breast pump!
It was exhausting and a constant worry that my milk would "dry up". I even resorted to "double pumping" with my breast pump, with both breasts being pumped at the same time! I'd even mastered the technique of "look, no hands" which my friends found very amusing!
A few weeks before my boys were allowed home, we started to try them on the breast but unfortunately they were too tiny to latch on, at this point they still only weighed about 3 1/2 and 4 lb each. They were still being tube fed and also cup fed with my milk.
A few days before they came home from hospital, and after many tears and heartache, we finally thought we had mastered latching on but it felt very strange to me. I was so used to my breast pump that having a little person attached to me didn't feel natural.
With a lot of help from the nurses I tried to double feed, ie both at the same time. One of them sucked at a faster rate that the other and that felt very strange!
Finally my boys came home from hospital. It was the day before their due date and they were 3 months old, now weighing 5lb 4oz and 4lb 5oz. It was incredibly frightening and emotional.
I continued to cup feed, breastfeed and express my milk but I have to say it was a real struggle. I wasn't enjoying the breastfeeding and I was worried that they weren't getting enough. I had been so used to measuring accurately every single millilitre that they had in hospital I'd become paranoid about how much or how little they were getting.
I continued to express and feed for a month after they came home but I was exhausted and my babies weren't gaining enough weight so I took the very difficult decision to introduce a specialist formula milk called Nutriprem.
I felt like a failure and a terrible mother but at the end of the day my babies needed the extra nutrients in the Nutriprem more than anything. I'd done all I could do.
My boys are 13 years old now. The prematurity has not affected them and they are bright and energetic loving boys. They are happy, very healthy and full of life. They are rarely poorly and have absolutely thrived and I think that is due to the fact that I ate well in pregnancy and breastfed them for as long as I could.
I hope you enjoyed reading another different breastfeeding experience.