When I was in the hospital with my preemie who was born at 28 weeks gestation, I was encouraged by the nurses at Mount Sinai Hospital to breastfeed Little One.  Of course, it was my intention to exclusively breastfeed, because I knew all the benefits of breastfeeding. Not just for babies, but for moms too.

breastfeeding

The kicker was that Little One was a preemie and hadn’t developed the suck-swallow-breathe technique yet. She was doing most of the developing she would have been doing inside the womb outside and in an isolette (incubator). She was also so little (980 grams — pretty much like 2 lbs of butter!) that trying to nurse expended too much of her energy.  Adamant that my child get breast milk, I pumped.  I pumped every two hours…religiously.  I would pump and deliver my milk to Little One’s primary nurse in a cooler.  Little One did receive breast milk, only via NG (nasogastric) tube at first.

The happiest moment for me as a new mom was the day I was finally able to do “kangaroo care”/”skin to skin” with Little One and hold her in my arms.  I was also allowed to try bottle feeding her my breast milk and then when she was a bit bigger and stronger, I was able to attempt nursing her.  With the help of Little One’s nurses and the Lactation Consultant, Little One and I soon became breastfeeding champs.  What seems now to be a small victory was actually a huge milestone in her life in the NICU!

I went on to nurse Little One until she self-weaned at a bit over two years of age.  I often got comments like “She shouldn’t be nursing at two years old”, but as a mom of a preemie, I wanted her to nurse for as long as she could.

Breast milk is important for newborn babies, but even more so for babies who are born prematurely.  Our bodies produce milk that is designed to nourish our babies.  The passive immunity from breast milk is important for preemies since they are more at risk for infections because like everything else in their bodies, their immune systems are not mature.

The road to breastfeeding a preemie was not always an easy one.  Some days were better than others.  Milk production was always a stress.  Am I producing enough? Is my milk good enough to keep my baby healthy and gaining weight? Then there was also the heartbreak of Little One’s milk needing to be fortified.  The nurses added vitamins and other nutrients into my breast milk.  As a mom who just had a baby (and a premature baby at that!), being told that my milk needed to be fortified felt like a blow.  I know it was the norm for the babies in the NICU, but emotions and hormones were a bit out of kilter and even the tiniest thing (like fortified breast milk) sent me into tears.

In honour of Breastfeeding Awareness Month, I’d like to share our story and how breastfeeding my preemie was the best gift I was able to give her in her early start.  Some helpful tips for breastfeeding moms of preemies:

  • It’s a great idea to discuss a plan with your lactation consultant and the nurses who are caring for your preemie in the NICU.  I found the team to be extremely helpful.
  • If you are pumping, keep a log of the times you pumped. I also kept a log of the amounts produced.
  • Make sure to keep hydrated.  I always kept a bottle of water with me. I drank water before and after nursing and pumping.
  • I also pumped after feedings to keep my milk supply up.
  • It may be easier said than done, but try not to stress. I found that the days I worried about milk production or the days I was particularly stressed, Little One picked up on it right away and it would often end in her not nursing well.  If mom’s stressed, baby’s stressed.
  • If you’re still in the NICU and your baby is attached to leads, don’t worry too much about all the beeping and flashing light from the monitors. The nurses will come when alerted by the flashing and noise. I used to stress when I saw Little One’s stats dip or spike while she was nursing.  The nurses reminded me that she was learning how to suck, swallow and breathe!  She was also notorious for setting off all her alarms when nursing!
  • Enjoy the quiet moments nursing your preemie.  Those are special bonding moments.  I actually really miss that time I had with Little One!

breastfeeding

I’ve always been told how important it is to breastfeed one’s baby.  After giving birth to a preemie, I know it was the best choice for us.  At five years old, Little One looks back at her photos from the NICU and tells people, “Did you know that breast milk is liquid gold?!”  Too funny!

Having a baby is such an exciting time – so many firsts for the baby, but also for us as parents.

Standing in a baby store staring at all the products out there that you just “need” for that baby is a big first for a lot of people, and a wake up call. Do we really need all those items? And how is it possible to not spend like crazy during those first few years?

It’s an expensive time for sure, but there are many little simple tricks to really try to cut costs.

One thing to do is while you’re pregnant or just had the baby, sign up for mom programs out there – free prenatal vitamins, any company you’ll be using with the baby such as diapers and formula etc. will send you samples, coupons, even a lot of them will send you little kits with all kinds of free goodies. I did this at night when my daughter was just born; it was sort of relaxing and nice to get surprises in the mail.

Another thing we often don’t realize as first time parents – not everything needs to be new! Get a new car seat, a new crib mattress – but for most things used works just fine and the baby will outgrow them so quickly anyway. Check out garage sales, online sites, selling groups on Facebook in your area or ask friends and family in case anyone is clearing out their kids closets. A great resource is finding someone with a kid a year or two older than yours – we have a few kids in our “downline” as I call it – I’ll save everything and just pass it down as we go. I buy a lot of bigger items now such as winter gear in neutral colours so it can be passed down to either. And if you’re debating on something you’re not sure about, ask friends, ask on Facebook, read reviews online. Get some real opinions and find out if it would work for your needs.

Babies grow so quickly, but it’s still pretty easy to stock up and shop out of season for the following year. It gets harder when they’re older and have their own style – but when my daughter was younger I always had bins of clothes for the following year or two. I found a garage sale once with the cutest kids clothes for 25 cents apiece. I left with a garbage bag full for $10 and had outfits, outerwear even Halloween costumes for 2 years. Sometimes you just have to suck it up and be that lady with the garbage bag of kids’ clothes walking down the street. 🙂 Stores will also often clear items out for a tiny fraction of what they cost in season, leave the tags on as many stores will take them as a return if they don’t fit, or you can sell them as new with tags also. We made it through many years with everything fitting, and I rarely had to shop – just one or two huge sales a year when they had extra promotions and mega clearance and we were set for clothes. It doesn’t take much effort to organize, and it’s nice to always have extras.

Same goes with diapers, find a huge sale or clearance and stock up. I still find I’ll do that for friends now, when the companies change the packaging the diaper packs often go for $5 – combine that with a coupon and you’re spreading the savings over many months! And remember to tape the receipts onto your diapers when you’re stocking up – if you get to that next size and still have full packs you’ll be able to return them that way.

And remember not to focus too much on what you buy – the kid will never remember, and after carefully selecting the most amazing gifts for that child the biggest hit might just be the new pair of pajamas anyway!


Christine is an ESL teacher, mother, wife, freelance writer, product reviewer, and blogger. She lives on a farm with her husband (Hubby), daughter (Little One), beloved canine baby (Chance), a bunch of rambunctious barn cats and some really stubborn cattle. Read her blog at Life On Manitoulin.