>> 2.16.2010

Blues means what milk does to a baby.
Alberta Hunter

[Note: the following post contains images of breastfeeding. Please navigate away from this page if you are offended by such images.]

Liam is breastfed..... Liam. Is. Breastfed.

I cannot begin to tell you how challenging the creation of that little three word sentence has been. Just seeing it on the screen makes me smile because there have been so many times I did not think--perhaps even knew-- that I would never be able to say it.

When Liam came early I had absolutely no working knowledge of premature babies. I knew he would be small and I knew he would have some pretty big obstacles to overcome. When doctors are attempting to convince you that slicing your two pound baby from your body 11 weeks early is the best thing to do... they do not tend to focus on those obstacles. They focus on survival rates (upward of 90%.. which is not nearly as close to 100% as it sounds when referring to your child) and on the awesome medical technology that is going to keep your baby alive. I never considered how this would affect my decision to breastfeed.

To be perfectly honest, I gave very little thought to breastfeeding while pregnant. It never occurred to me to weigh the pros and cons. I never stopped to ponder the challenges breastfeeding mothers face or wonder if it would be worth it. It just did not make sense to me to purchase food for my baby when my body produced food for him. That was basically the extent of my consideration and in the midst of the disaster that was Liam's birth, breastfeeding fell even farther from my mind. Had the lactation consultant not stopped by my room with some encouraging words and a breast pump, I do not think it would have even occurred to me that, at some point, this baby was going to be ready to eat.

For a couple of days after Liam was born I was not even allowed to sit up in bed. I wanted to pump because I was suddenly very aware that providing breast milk was basically the only thing I was able to do for Liam, but my blood pressure was too high. I was worried this would cause problems but on the third day they allowed me to sit up (it was also the day they allowed me to go see Liam for the first time) and I pumped a fair bit of colostrum. My milk soon followed.

At that point, I had no idea that for the next couple of months the pump would become my most intimate friend. We began meeting for a private encounter every 3 hours and the NICU freezer was soon filled with our labors of love. Liam was still exclusively on nutritional fluids but it made me feel good to know that when he was ready, my milk would be waiting for him.

Introducing Liam to food through his feeding tube was a slow and daunting process. We encountered several false starts before his body was ready, but once he got going, things went great. And then came the fateful day that my stockpile at the NICU dwindled to nothing, as did my milk supply. I was literally getting mere drops at every pumping and I just knew the end was near.

Liam was given formula for the first time and did not handle it well at all. Once again all feedings stopped, tests were done, ultrasounds were taken... and as I watched my sweet little one squeak in hunger (IV fluids do not fill empty tummies) I felt like I had a second chance. I spoke with the lactation consultant, bought a 64 oz water bottle, started taking fenugreek, and got a prescription for Reglan. I began pumping every 2 hours and slowly (very s-l-o-w-l-y) my supply returned and Liam was able to return to breast milk.

That was a happy day.. but not the end of our problems. Liam did great with bottle-feeding.. but putting him to breast was a challenge. He did not latch well and I was constantly worried I was starving him. When he came home, I was breast-feeding, pumping, and bottle-feeding every 2-3 hours and soon became exhausted. Once again, I thought our time was up. I was not producing enough to feed Liam and pump... so.. as a last ditch effort, I decided to try a 24 hour exclusive breastfeeding experiment and drop the bottles.

Liam started eating hourly and I was convinced every sound he made was due to hunger. It was extremely stressful. I started attending a weekly breastfeeding support group at Parkridge East and I know that I would have given up if I had not decided to do this. Both the knowledge of the lactation consultant and just hearing the other moms face similar obstacles and have the same concerns with their full-term babies, plus being able to weigh Liam weekly and see exactly how much milk he receives has been completely priceless. That support group, coupled with the advice I received from message boards and this blog, kept me going. And...we made it.

That isn't to say that we have not faced any more challenges; every time Liam's growth slows, every time the exhaustion from getting up every 2 hours starts to catch up with me... I get tempted to stop. Even just being aware that Liam will never really understand how hard it was to breastfeed him and listening to other moms who have made the decision to formula feed, always know that their little one is getting enough to eat and have the option of getting a little extra rest is difficult sometimes.

But then... Liam cries to let me know he is hungry. I settle down with him and watch him root around and latch like a pro, grunting in satisfaction as he drinks his fill. I stroke his little head, rub his little back and watch his little toes curl and uncurl. I think about the future: how I will watch this baby grow into a little boy.. and that little boy grow into a man. I think about the fact that this is the only time in his life that he will be solely dependent on me. Soon he will be squirming out of my arms and then he will be too big for my arms at all. I think about the antibodies he missed out on by entering this world before he was ready and how my breast milk is providing a little extra protection; how this is still something I can do for him...and how hard I have worked to come this far-- what a shame it would be to give up now. I think about these quiet moments that are shared just between Liam and me.. and I know I would not give them up for the world.

Liam gained 8.4 oz this week. That is his largest gain since coming home from the hospital. He is growing so fast. Every ounce he puts on feels like a job well done.

And...I cannot help but pat myself on the back... just a little.


~gretchen~ February 17, 2010 at 12:06 AM  

pat yourself on the back until it hurts!!! you did such a good job geting to where you are today. its truly beautiful that youre able to provide for liam by breastfeeding and its something that so many of us (preemie moms or "normal" moms) cant do. it still pains me today that i wasnt able to make things work out to where devin could exclusivley breastfeed, it makes me happy every time i find out a preemie mama is successful. props michelle!

Julia, Jeremiah & Skyler February 17, 2010 at 12:20 AM  

I've spent the last.. I've lost track of time.. while, reading your blog from start to current finish. Before you label me a total loser, I should state that 1. I did not have a ride to NICU today. 2. Jeremiah is doing some nightshifts for a few days, so I have entire evenings/nights to myself, and I am NOT used to sleeping alone & 3. I rarely have the desire to talk to other human beings lately. So your blog has kept me entertained & distracted. For that I thank you. There were so many moments I cried, smiled and cheered for you, your husband & Liam. I found so many similarities (Skyler, too, loves to pull on her tubes and wrap up wires with her toes), and thought deeply about some of the differences. I know I did not comprehend all of the great words you have written, how could someone in such a short time? But I was in a race to get to the part where Liam went home, where you & your family finally got to experience parenthood - for real. I felt like yelling out to you when you wrote how you hadn't gotten to really experience motherhood yet - I feel that so often & it makes me a little panicky, that by the time Skyler comes home, I won't know what to do! I don't get to spend much time at the NICU and therefore miss out on her feedings, diaper changes, etc. most of the time. However, you have given me hope that our motherly instincts will somehow guide us - much like they help us cope as our babies go through such hard times. Thank you so much for your words - they are inspirational. IMO, the best inspiration comes from watching real people, in real situations. You are proof of that.

Jennifer February 17, 2010 at 1:17 AM  

I am so happy for you!! we were never able to actually bf, except for those few weeks in the NICU before their swallowing issues showed up. I know the feeling of becoming best friends with the pump. Liam may never know how hard you've worked, but I'm sure he would say (if he could talk right now) thanks mom!!

Meg February 17, 2010 at 9:13 AM  

I love this post! When I was pregnant I always wondered why there were books about bf, support groups about bf, international org about bf...I always thought it would just be so easy and natural...and then I had a baby and I totally understood is hard! and painful! and take a lot of time and work! But once everything 'falls into place' it is so perfect and amazing. Almost too perfect, actually...I probably have the only 10 1/2 month old who is still 99% bf...introducing solids is a whole other adventure (in which Leaf has no interest)....Congrats to you and Liam on the breastfeeding!

Little M and Baby G February 17, 2010 at 11:16 AM  

What a beautiful post. I am so glad that it has worked out for you and Liam. Breastfeeding a preemie is hard work, but oh so worth it.

I hope you two have a long and happy breastfeeding relationship.

It is amazing to see how much Greyson has grown when I look down at him while nursing. Once he was a tiny little guy and now his legs hang off the chair because he is so long!

Amber February 17, 2010 at 2:35 PM  

You write amazing blog stories. I wish I could write as well as you do. Your story about breastfeeding made me choke up. I have a full term baby and I go through some of the same struggles with breast feeding. I knew from my first child that it's a tough thing to do, but it also can feel very rewarding knowing that you are providing the best nutrients for your baby. How much does Liam weigh now and what kind of camera do you have... or better yet, who takes the pictures? I just love your pictures.

Michelle February 17, 2010 at 3:36 PM  

Thank you everyone for your kind words!

Liam weight in at 6 lbs, 14.1 oz today on the digital scale. Also, we have a Nikon D3000- which we just got and LOVE- and Ryan and I both take pictures. Obviously, the ones on this post were taken by Ryan and edited by me. But we are both very frequently behind the camera. It is great fun!

Lisa February 18, 2010 at 10:11 AM  

Yay! I'm so glad this is going so well for you. It's such an awesome feeling. If it weren't for me having to travel, I would still be doing it and would have dropped the pump. But as it is, I pump exclusively now so at least she still gets the milk!!

Toni February 19, 2010 at 7:17 PM  

I understand your words so well. I went through three pumps before finding the Medela, and with it was able to up my milk supply.

Maddie is 10 months old now and I've been thinking, almost daily, about how and when I will stop nursing. I do believe she is doing a bit of natural weaning at the moment, just not taking as much milk from me or her bottles at school.

My days will be easier without having to pump, but I will miss nursing my baby. :)

Congrats on being able to make it through all those obstacles!

Lindy February 22, 2010 at 8:48 PM  

I am currently struggling with a similar situation - my Natalie was born at 31 weeks on 12-29-09. We have not yet been able to get her to successfully latch without a nipple shield. Oh, and they think she has developed an allergy to cow's milk, so my diet is ridiculously restricted. Yet - every 2-3 hours, we attempt to get her to the breast, and then I pump. And it IS exhausting. And I'm hoping that she can eventually "get it," but reading your words and hearing everything so hauntingly familiar, gives me hope that maybe we too can overcome this challenge and I can keep her feeding. Though, the allergy thing could put a quicker end to it than anything... lemme tell ya how hard it is to avoid ALL forms of dairy! Ugh.
Way to go Michelle and Liam!

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