This post is a continuation of Breastfeeding: The Prerequisites.
After your preemie baby has learned how to latch on and has begun receiving nourishment from you, you may begin a period of short nursing sessions, teaching your baby the suck-swallow-breathe routine, wacky pumping schedules, and waiting for your baby to grow bigger and stronger. This period of time will involve learning how to use the breastfeeding scale, trying to keep your baby awake during nursing sessions, and finally experiencing some precious bonding moments with your preemie that are long overdue.
As my baby got stronger she occasionally would have a very successful nursing session and receive most or all of her scheduled feeding amount. At first such a session exhausted her so much that she did not have the energy to breastfeed again for a day or two. Then, she might get 30-50 mL and would still have to be gavaged for half of her feeding, or else she would nurse very little and get her entire feeding from her g tube. The successes would get me so excited that I would come the next day with high expectations and then be disappointed for a couple of days. Her energy and ability to eat was very irregular and it was difficult for me to not see continual progress.
It wasn’t until my preemie was 37 weeks that she began to have regular success in obtaining her full feeding from breastfeeding. Isn’t that amazing? Almost to the day of being “full term”. Because my baby struggled with breathing and having enough energy to nurse, we had to start bottle feeding as well at 36 weeks. It was easier for her, and when we went home almost a week after her due date I was nursing her half the time and fortifying breast milk in bottles half of the time. A month and a half later I was finally able to breastfeed only!! That was an exciting time.
So, just like most everything else in the NICU, there are likely going to be ups and downs in your baby’s breastfeeding success. However, I’m sure that much of your baby’s success will depend on how premature she is and what other problems she’s struggling with. Take heart! Breastfeeding your preemie is wonderful and beautiful, not to mention a tender bonding experience. The time and effort you put into teaching and encouraging your tiny baby will be worth every minute of sacrifice. And, hopefully it will be an incredible beginning to the special bond that will last through the first year of your baby’s life at home, or longer. Breastfeeding is well worth the time and energy, and I believe it can teach you the true beauty and spirit of motherhood.
Related Posts: Q&A – When Can I Stop Pumping?