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Monday, November 26, 2012

Breastfeeding a Preemie: Stories from Michelle and Neva

I often see posts from mothers with preemie babies asking for milk at the Human Milk for Human Babies - The Philippines page.  I also hear a lot of stories about how a mom wasn't able to successfully breastfeed her baby because she gave birth prematurely.  I have 2 friends who recently gave birth to preemie babies but were able to successfully breastfeed them, despite additional challenges they had to face.  I am sharing their stories in hopes of encouraging moms with preemie babies to persevere and breastfeed their babies.

I have previously shared Michelle's story but wanted to check back to see how her baby Peter is doing.  Michelle carried twins and throughout her pregnancy, she was on bed rest for 6 months because of a very delicate pregnancy (which could result in the loss of her life).  She had to bathe and do her toilet rituals lying down to prevent the loss of her babies. Peter was born at 27 weeks via normal delivery.  Peter had a twin brother - Philip - who passed away shortly after birth.  The birth of Michelle's babies was also difficult as she was at risk due to pulmonary embolism.

Can you believe this baby was a preemie?!
Photo from Michelle
The loss of Philip was difficult and heart wrenching but Michelle consistently reminded herself that she still had Peter who was at the NICU (and stayed at the NICU for 2 months).  Because Peter was at the NICU, Michelle started pumping at day 1.  Michelle knew that she had to protect her supply so even if no visible white milk was coming out, she continued to pump, hand massage then pump.  Michelle pumped round the clock (every 2 hours) as her doctor wanted her to give her own breastmilk to Peter - which was perfect for a premature baby. Michelle also visited Peter at the NICU daily.  She managed to do this even while mourning for Philip.

Peter is now almost 5 months old (adjusted age is 2 months).  He directly feeds from Michelle, every 1.5 - 2 hours.  He is exclusively on Michelle's milk, aside from the vitamins Michelle gives him.  Since Michelle directly breastfeeds Peter, she no longer pumps.

Michelle confesses that it was really difficult when the twins were first born especially since she had to deal with Philip's death.  Also, since Peter was in the NICU for sometime, the hospital bill was no joke.  She constantly prayed and thanked the Lord for giving her milk for Peter and more.  She encourages pregnant moms to read up on breastfeeding during their pregnancy.  For moms with preemies, she encourages them to persevere - pump round the clock.

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The second story is from my friend Neva of ManilaMommy. The premature birth of Noah was totally unexpected.  Neva and I had been involved in several projects and she even had a photoshoot with Stan in early September.  Thus, I was totally in shock when I received a message that Neva was already in labor in mid-September.  You can read about Noah's birth in Neva's post.

Neva had an uneventful second pregnancy.  Although she had been asked to take a week's leave, all tests were normal and there was no indication of any problem with her pregnancy.  Noah was born via C/S at 33 weeks.  Because his birth was unexpected, Neva was not able to pack her hospital bag or bring her breast pump.  She only got her pump on Day 2 and started pumping right away.

Aside from Noah's premature birth, Neva and Dan found out that Noah had Down Syndrome only after he was born.  Because of this, Noah had to face a battery of tests - to check his heart and other organs to determine if there were any issues that came along with Trisomy 21.

cute little Noah!
photo from ManilaMommy
Neva's friends quickly rallied around her and came up with a "care package" composed of donor's breastmilk, breast milk bags and readings on pumping for preemies and NICU babies.  Neva also pumped round the clock - every 2 hours - even if she was getting only an ounce or less.  As Dan says - "every drop counts" so Neva persevered.  Due to her regular and consistent milk expression, Neva was able to build up her supply and leave enough milk in the NICU for Noah when she got discharged from the hospital.

Noah is now about 2.5 months (but his adjusted age is 3 weeks old).  He drinks 2oz of milk every 2-3 hours.  Neva is able to provide 80% of Noah's needs while 20% comes from supplements. Noah's neonatologist prescribed dietary supplements for low weight babies.  Once Noah finishes the prescribed supplements, he will be taking only Neva's milk.  She pumps every 3 hours producing 2-3oz. per session.  Her highest yield occurs in the morning - good for 2 feedings, allowing her to get a head start on Noah's needs for the day.

Because Noah is small, Neva has to use a preemie nipple shield whenever she directly feeds him.  For now, Neva has decided to exclusively pump for Noah.  Neva's advise to preemie moms is to make sure that you eat well, get enough rest and sleep.  She also shares that it is important to keep pumping and stick to a schedule.  Neva's currently goal is to pump 8-10 times in the morning and once at night, giving her enough time to sleep and recover.  Finally, Neva reminds preemie moms not to despair as the milk will come.

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Having a premature baby is an extra challenge in being able to establish a successful breastfeeding relationship.  However, as the experience of Michelle and Neva show, with perseverance and determination, they were able to produce milk and meet their children's needs.  It is important to protect your supply and start expressing milk as soon as possible after birth.  I hope the stories of Michelle and Neva - moms of preemie babies who had to face additional challenges - will inspire moms of preemie babies not to give up - it is indeed possible to successfully breastfeed a premature baby.

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