Exclusively breast feeding, without nursing yet – a premature beginning

Entering this world when I was only 32 weeks pregnant, not much about Harley’s birth went to plan. Eclampsia, an emergency C-section and extensive recovery were not what I wanted, and it made me worried about an important plan of mine. I really wanted to breast feed my baby; not just breast feed, but I was hoping to exclusively breast feed. It wasn’t set in stone – I’d known enough moms who had struggled and I would never judge anyone (including myself) about this stuff, but I really wanted to be able to feed my little munchkin. After everything that happened, I was worried that I might not be able to.

While still in the ICU, the physio came to see me, and she was so helpful about a range of things, one of which was the breast feeding. She pushed down on my (incredibly sore) boobs, and out came the tiniest bit of milk. My milk had come in, and I was raring to start using it. Of course, it wasn’t quite so easy.

First up, I had to wait for some of the hectic drugs they’d given me to work their way out of my system. By that time, I had been moved to the normal maternity ward. Obviously, Harley was (and still is) too small and prem to nurse. She hasn’t yet even attempted to learn the “suck, swallow and breathe” reflex we all take for granted except when someone makes us laugh too hard while we’re drinking. That meant I had to master the art of pumping my breast milk.

It sounded so easy. I had already picked out the brand I liked for bottles and such, and wanted to get the corresponding pump. I hadn’t done that yet, thinking I still had loads of time, which meant that my in-laws had to buy and deliver the whole set-up to me in the hospital. Dean and I figured out how it worked and I tried to pump, getting only 3mls (0.6 teaspoon).

I felt terrible. Sure, Harley wasn’t eating much, but she was getting more than that in her feeding tube! Was it too late for me already? Would I be yet another example of women who can’t express and miss out on the joys of breast feeding as a result? Of course the anxiety didn’t help. But the nurses were encouraging, and my mom (a former La Leche League Leader) was too. I even reached out to the rad ladies of the LLL Facebook group and they urged me to just keep trying – I’d get there.

Amazingly, that’s exactly what happened. A few times a day, I’d try to pump, and each time I tried, I got more. At this point, Harley is exclusively breast fed, albeit with some extras added to the milk that are necessary to meet her preemie needs. I have pumped so much that the NICU nurses have told me to freeze some instead – I’ve filled their fridge with milk already. So I have bought freezing stuff and started building a frozen supply, and I also want to investigate donating milk.

There isn’t much that I can do at this point to nurture Harley. I can go visit her, cuddle her and talk to her. The only really tangible thing that I can do to take care of her each day is to give her the food she needs to grow and to thrive, and I’m able to do that. It makes me so proud and happy, even if she hasn’t yet drunk that milk from my breast or a bottle – one day she will. And until then, I’m going to relish the fact that I am feeding my little girl, giving her what the nurses call “the best stuff”/”liquid gold”.


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