OK, I have to come right out and say that I could not do this for longer than a month. As of now, my son is still in the NICU, and I lasted 3 weeks with him. I knew almost immediately that pumping, labeling, transporting, pretty much everything was going to be overwhelming. With my 30 weeker, I was able to do it for 6 weeks but she had a hard time latching on and so I could not breastfeed when she came home. I know I could have gone further had it not been mentally challenging.
I, however, learned some tips and implemented them for my short experience. I want to share some of those tips with you. I also want to advocate that breastfeeding is completely your choice and it is a taxing experience. I have zero patience so pumping is not easy but it is your choice to do what you feel is best for your baby.
- Pump like your life depends on it – With babies that are taken straight to the NICU don't have the opportunity to latch right on and help trigger your milk supply. The nurses will bring you an industrial pump and a kit to get the process started. Ideally you want to pump every 3 hours for 20-30 minutes in the beginning. Don't be discouraged, it won't be much. It can take some moms a full week for their supply to start looking ample enough. With my micro-preemie, it took me 5 days to get maybe 15ml of milk. During the night you can do every 4 hours but be sure that you're at least getting in 8 sessions of pumping.
- Eat, eat and eat some more – Milk won't produce if you have nothing to produce it with. The fattier foods you eat, the fattier your babies milk will be and more calories. Don't mistake that because you're breastfeeding you can eat all you want. There are still consequences by overeating and not balancing your calorie intake. Take it from the fat chick!
- Drink like you live in a desert – Water is essential to keeping your milk flowing. You're outputting fluid so your intake needs to be more. I've found that adding a simple lemon or some essential oils to water gives it variety.
- Get a pumping bra – Kourtney Kardashian was living it up showing her goodies on TV. I thought these hilarious at first but they are so awesome. If you have an industrial pump, you can't walk around with them but it does help keep you hands free.
- Use an industrial pump – This is vital. You can't just use a standard pump that you grab at Target. You need to use one that is hospital grade. Some insurances will cover these to have a home health company rent them to you. If that is not an option, your local WIC clinic has some that they can also rent. Your body needs to have the strength to trick your body into thinking its a baby.
- Fenugreek – This is a great natural supplement to help in the production of milk. It takes a few days for it to kick in but it works awesome.
No, you can never replace actually breastfeeding your baby directly on your body but some babies are just too fragile and do not have the coordination to do it. It usually takes them to about 34 weeks gestation to get the suck, swallow, breathe down. Every baby is different and some can catch on quickly. It really depends on what your baby has already experienced. Feeding can be very challenging for preemies. It's important that you do what is right for you and your baby will be OK if you choose not to breastfeed. Trying to breastfeed a preemie can bring joy and it can bring pain. All babies progress differently so don't compare yours to their neighbor. I know first hand how many challenges they face and how it can impact their progress.
A 24 week baby is so different from a 30 week baby or even my oldest that was born at 34 weeks. I'm close to spending almost 200 days in the NICU from 3 children and they've all presented different progress and challenges. Don't give up. You do eventually forget all what you've experienced but there are triggers that can set you off. I think with my micro, I had been through the trial before and I knew first hand that, mentally, I could not handle the challenge that breastfeeding has always been to me. When you take care of mom, baby will be taken care of as well. Good luck!