Blog post by Emma Robison
On 12 September 2012, our baby boy Charlie arrived at 31 weeks. Weighing 1.56kg, he was soon whipped off to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). My husband had made it to the birth with seconds to spare, and after a room packed full of people for the birth, we were now alone, with no baby.
Charlie is our third boy and was our third premature baby, but it doesn’t get any easier to have your baby taken away and have that anxious wait to hear whether they are doing OK and you can get the green light to go and visit. This time we were slightly more prepared; we had dealt with our other two babies being ventilated, on CPAP, having a collapsed lung, being hooked up to monitors, taking antibiotics, having phototherapy and all the ups and downs associated with a stay on NICU. Still, those two hours, sat in the delivery suite felt like the longest time in the world until we got to meet our beautiful boy.
Charlie was doing well, he was on CPAP but doing well. This is where my story really begins as this is not a just a tale about our NICU journey, this is about mine and Charlie’s breastfeeding journey. In sharing it I hope others relate to the difficulties in breastfeeding a premature baby, but also find inspiration to keep going!
After my first visit to meet Charlie I was ready to express some breast milk for my baby boy. I had done it before and although Charlie wasn’t ready to feed just yet, I knew he soon would be through his tube. Armed with my small pot I went through the hand expressing process and was able to express a small amount; liquid gold for baby Charlie. A few hours later I tried again…nothing! During the night I tried again, and still nothing! I hadn’t yet held my baby, and my body had let me down, the tears started to fall and I felt like a failure.
In the morning I tried again and still having no success I rang my husband in floods of tears. I had never had any problems expressing milk for my other boys and now not a drop, I really did feel useless. But my fantastic husband got off the phone and arrived at the hospital with my two big boys. Wow I had missed them, you feel so torn when you have a baby on NICU and other children at home, you almost need to be split into two. We all went down to visit Charlie, and I got to hold him, I was elated! My husband and two older boys left and I went back to my room, and the most amazing thing happened, I was able to hand express milk! I felt like I wasn’t useless after all.
As we lived close to the hospital, and having the two boys at home I decided that I wanted to go home. Armed with a hospital breast pump and paraphernalia I was able to express round the clock, setting my alarm every night to keep my supply going and doing the only thing I could for my baby, producing milk for him. I spent most of my days on NICU with Charlie enjoying every precious moment, eagerly awaiting the magical 34 week mark when my baby could begin to feed.
Charlie grew stronger, continued to put on weight and luckily had quite an uneventful road to the going home nursery. Then it was time and I could try to feed my precious baby boy. At this point I was desperate for my baby to feed so that I could get him home, but Charlie apparently didn’t get this memo. I was there for every feed, willing him to wake up enough to have a go, changing his nappy to try to wake him and get him on the breast. Again I felt useless, the nurses tried to tell me he wasn’t ready and to keep trying, but I wanted my baby home and needed him to breastfeed. Every time he got the full amount through his tube instead of from me I felt like I had failed. Silly I know but again I had another emotional breakdown! At this moment I was almost on the verge of giving up, but I am stubborn, hate to fail, and desperately wanted to breastfeed, so I carried on.
I stayed at hospital from that moment on. Believe it or not due to my stubbornness and an amazing baby boy, we did it. I was able to room in with him and he fed just from me for 72 hours and gained weight. I was finally able to take my fully breastfed baby home, and we have never looked back. I have enjoyed every moment of breastfeeding my baby, yes at times it has been tough but I love feeding my boy, and love the bond we have got through feeding. Charlie is now one, our breastfeeding journey still continues, we have had ups and downs but I am proud that I breastfed my tiny premature baby, and thankful for a supportive husband whose help has been invaluable along the way.
Find out more information about breastfeeding your baby in neonatal care