It’s Black Breastfeeding Week, and what better time to share the story of my newborn preemie’s nursing journey? If you’ve read my birth story for Kingston, you already understand how big of a miracle he is. Born at 2 pounds and 12 ounces, he was on oxygen for less than a day, he did NOT require intense treatment (so he was not flown to another hospital), and his tiny body was strong and fully functional. However, November 14, 2019 was the day he completely amazed us all. During our daily skin to skin time, he began to nurse.
Since his birth on 11/6/19, I would hurry to the nursery three times a day to cuddle my extra tiny human. I was hopeful that he knew Mommy was there, despite the noisy monitors and frequent traffic through the NICU. Going to sleep at night without my newborn in the same room was a new and extremely difficult experience for me. I felt completely useless being unable to care for and nurse my child. So these moments were priceless! I was fortunate to be able to pump colostrum for him, which the nurses fortified with human milk formula so he could receive it via gavage feedings, through his nG tube. I would cuddle him with a warm blanket to my bare chest and pray he was connecting with me as the milk filled his tiny tummy. I did not make it to every feeding (he was fed every three hours), but when I did, I did my best to soak up the moment…despite my longing to be at home, in my own bed, caring for him.
…but when I did, I did my best to soak up the moment…despite my longing to be at home, in my own bed, caring for him.
On November 14th, at his noon feeding, Kingston changed the game. I noticed him rubbing his tiny face along my collarbone as I held him. I pulled back a little to give him space to move around my chest. Then he found my nipple and his little lips tried to latch! I stared down in amazement and tried to whisper discreetly to the nurse sitting a few feet away: “Ummm…I think he wants to nurse!” I felt obligated to tell her that I had not tried to force him at all. (All the nurses were incredible; but the NICU can have the strangest effect on your sense of ownership to your own baby. It’s a disconnected feeling. But that’s another topic for another day.)
The nurse immediately came over and her eyes widened in shock. “Oh my gosh,” she whispered, “look at this little boy!” She called for another nurse to come observe, and soon there were more than six nurses quietly crowded around, full of happy tears at the tiniest peanut in the nursery. The lactation consultant turned to me and said, “You are amazing.” I thanked her, but I felt like I didn’t deserve that praise because Kingston had found it on his own. I completely discounted the time I had spent creating our bond through quality skin to skin time. (Another result of the feelings I battled with while in the hospital. But I digress.)
<Watch this priceless moment below! :)>
The speech/language pathologist was called in to observe his suck-swallow- breathe coordination, and to determine whether or not his sucks and swallows were “nutritive.” Basically, is he drawing milk from the breast and receiving nutrients, or is he going through the motions with empty swallows? His gulps were pretty obvious and quite loud to me, and I had no doubt he was being fed. Having breastfed my first two babies, I finally found my confidence and it was as if all my motherhood instincts fired up and coursed through me. (His constant weight gain later proved that he was.) I was smiling from ear to ear, softly encouraging him and silently thanking God that He provided me the comfort I needed. The nurses and staff were so happy and celebrated along with me. It was easily one of the best moments of our month long stay. (I am so grateful to all of those amazing nurses, and the doctors!)
I finally found my confidence and it was as if all my motherhood instincts fired up and coursed through me.
Breastfeeding is quite exhausting for babies, especially preemies. When he would be too tired to nurse, I understood why, but I would feel defeated and start my cycle of worry. What if he doesn’t want to nurse anymore? Will his weight gain slow down, thus slowing down our journey to get home? On the other hand, was nursing wearing him out too much, causing him to lose energy/calories, and weaken his ability to regulate his body temperature?…Never in my life have I experienced so many extreme ups and downs. In the coming weeks, I tried my best to think of the day he nursed, how much hope and purpose filled me in that moment, and how strong and determined this little baby was. He gave me hope and helped me to trust that it would all be over soon. Anytime the doctor would set a weight or feeding goal for him, he went over and above. If they wanted him to gain 20 ounces over night, he would gain 40. If they increased his milk intake, he would eat even more the next day.
You might think I would have stopped worrying after awhile, but I didn’t. The trauma of the day he was born had created a fear in me that was hard to shake. I kept expecting things to take a bad turn; for the nurses to call and tell me to come quickly, he’s not breathing. He never ONCE showed any signs of distress, never once had breathing irregularity, and never had one feeding issue. So, it’s difficult for others to understand how those first moments continue to shape your motherhood experience, despite the fact that he was “fine.” Some would ask, “Why are you scared? He’s doing great.” “Did something happen recently?” Well, yes. I endured a placental abruption, and me and my child almost died. A few good days in the NICU doesn’t erase that.
But when he nursed, it gave me hope during those 3:00 AM moments when I would lay in bed and cry, and ask God why all this happened in the first place. Or at 10:00 AM, after his morning feeding, I would go back to my room, depressed, and wonder how much longer we would be in the hospital. Then I would pick up my phone and watch the video of my little fighter clinging to me, receiving his nourishment, almost willing me not to worry. We would be home soon.
I thank God that I was able to do it at all, and although I felt sad to stop early on, my body needed to recuperate. Looking back now, things worked out that way so my body could heal.
My breastfeeding journey did not last a year like it did for my other two babies. We made it to nearly 6 months, and now we are full on with formula and solids. I thank God that I was able to do it at all, and although I felt sad to stop early on, my body needed to recuperate. Looking back now, things worked out that way so my body could heal. Now he is almost 10 months old, over 15 pounds, and thriving. And I’m healed up, healthy, and getting back into shape. I am pro-breastfeeding, obviously; but having Kingston made me realize that it’s MOST important to be healthy for your child. After all we’ve been through, our bond is stronger than ever. #fedisbest
On December 5, 2019, weighing 4 pounds, we brought our tiny prince home. Tiny but mighty. Early but on time. I am so proud of my little boy. And I’m also proud of myself. Preemies and preemie moms rock!