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Lives in: Blairsville, Pennsylvania
Breastfeeding experience: Positive, thanks to plenty of support from experts
Main challenges: Teaching her preemie to suck; adjusting to life at home without 24/7 support from nurses
Breastfed for: 21 months
Olivia was born eight weeks early. From the start I planned to breastfeed – it actually hadn't occurred to me to do anything else. It helped that in my hospital mothers of babies born prematurely were strongly encouraged to breastfeed. Within hours of delivering my daughter I was given a hospital-grade breast pump.
It took a few days for the milk to come in, though I kept trying and trying. But the lactation consultant was reassuring, so I wasn't upset. Until my milk came in, Olivia was fed formula, which didn't bother me either. She only weighed two pounds, 15 ounces, and I certainly didn't want her to starve!
Olivia was at the NICU for 45 days. Because preemies aren't developed enough to know how to suck on their own, they have to be taught. Olivia was given a pacifier while on the feeding tube so she'd connect sucking with a full belly. I dry fed her, which means pumping before giving her my breast so she could practice latching on. I also used a nipple shield, which makes it easier for preemies to maintain a deep latch.
Finally it was time to go home. Transitioning from my team of nurses and lactation consultants to just me wasn't easy – they'd been with us for weeks! I was also nervous because Olivia routinely nursed for a few minutes and then fell asleep. It was nerve-racking because she was so small – just 4 pounds and 9 ounces when we brought her home. So I sometimes weighed her before and after a feeding to make sure she was eating.
After about a month, we got into a routine and were able to relax. I tried nursing her every other feeding, but she didn't care whether the milk came from a bottle or a breast. When she was 6 months old I had to go back to work and switched her to the bottle full-time.
As with most of my experiences with Olivia, it was pretty easy.
My biggest lesson learned
Don't give up. You have to do what you feel is right for you and your baby. And as the mom of a baby in the NICU, I felt like the only thing I could do for her that the doctors, nurses, and other people couldn't was to provide milk. It was very rewarding. I felt like I was doing my job as her mom.
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