Christmas on the unit - a nurse's perspective
As a neonatal nurse I deal with premature and sick babies and their families every day, but that still didn’t prepare me for the birth of my daughter. On 21 December 2013 Scarlett Robinson was born by natural delivery at 34 weeks gestation and the weeks that followed were some of the most stressful times of my life.
While other mums were enjoying spending Christmas day with their children at home, I had to leave my four day old daughter on the neonatal unit while I was upstairs on the maternity ward being cared for. None of my family were able to visit as they were about 40 minutes away. Scarlett’s dad was there for a few hours but he had to leave to visit his family.
I found myself on my own from 4.00pm as I became unwell with my blood pressure and was on bed rest. I couldn’t even see my daughter in the evening. I was upset, as all I wanted to do was be with her and wash and settle her for bed like I had been doing. I found not being able to spend time as a family on her first Christmas very stressful as it’s meant to be a special time as a new parent.
Strangely enough, I used to work on the same unit where Scarlett was being looked after. So despite being used to caring for babies in that environment I wasn’t allowed, and I just had to sit back and watch everyone else take care of my little girl. This was really stressful as I knew exactly what to do, I just couldn’t do it. I actually became really frustrated at times because they did things slightly differently to the unit I work on at present.
Scarlett needed help with her breathing for the first 12 hours, as well as IV fluids. She had to spend seven days in the high dependency unit having phototherapy for jaundice and help to maintain her temperature. After this she was moved to transitional care to try and start breastfeeding.
Of the whole experience, this was the most difficult thing for me. Before I had Scarlett, I used to think breastfeeding and expressing was easy. I had seen so many mums struggle and get upset with it, but I never appreciated how much it means to be able to provide for your child in that way, and how obsessed you become with the volume of milk you are expressing. We really struggled in the beginning and I even had to use nipple shields to get Scarlett attached to breastfeed.
The experience opened my eyes to how important breastfeeding is. With the help of the nursing staff and the Bliss breastfeeding guide, I finally got the hang of it, and am still doing it now.
Scarlett only had to stay in hospital for two weeks, but due to poor weight gain we had to return to the unit weekly for assessment under a consultant. She was found to have a tongue tie and didn’t gain weight for nearly a month, but with a strict routine of a breastfeed and top ups every three hours, she slowly gained weight. I was still expressing to increase my supply, as well as taking herbal remedies and medication.
It worked, and after months of stress we finally stopped the routine and were able to demand breastfeed with one formula bottle a day. Most days I cried and felt a failure, but with the support of my partner and my friends I got through it.
Scarlett is now on only one feed a day and she is still small, but just perfect. She is nearly walking at 11 months old and is up to date with her development – she is even ahead with some things!
My advice to other mums is to keep going with trying to express and breastfeed. It is hard work but it’s definitely worth it in the end. Despite all the stress and tears, after five months I found it so easy to do it became a part of my everyday life.
This experience has changed me. I will now be a more understanding nurse and can offer more advice on breastfeeding at work. I know I can relate now to how the mums are feeling.
If you need advice with breastfeeding, download our guide ‘The best start: a guide to expressing and breastfeeding your premature baby’ or phone our helpline on 0500 618 140.
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