Before Jenna was even born, I knew that I wanted to breastfeed. I won’t go into all my reasons here – that’s another post all together – but when we learned about the extent of all of her intestinal issues and her problems with feeding, I immediately assumed that my hopes for breastfeeding were dashed. I’m so thankful I asked and that we had fantastic doctors and nurses who were encouraging and accommodating. I learned that I could express (i.e., pump) breast milk that would be used through her feeding pump so that she could still get all the nutritional advantages I wanted to offer her through breastfeeding even though she wouldn’t get it directly from me. I began pumping immediately so that she could get the benefits of colostrum, and it wasn’t long before my milk production was far exceeding her rate of feeding. I carefully labeled and froze everything I expressed, and the nursing staff worked with me to use the “older” milk first, so that nothing was being wasted.
As Jenna got stronger, the NICU nursing staff worked with me to try to get Jenna to breastfeed directly. Unfortunately, we just never got a good latch, and several medical issues along the way made this pretty much impossible. I was so thankful that we were still able to offer the breastmilk through the feeding pump. As a result of our careful organization and freezing system, we were able to feed Jenna breastmilk for almost 6 months. As my milk supply began dwindling, we simply supplemented the breastmilk with formula as necessary. Eventually, we rolled over to full formula feedings, but I’m so glad that she received breastmilk for her first six months.
Even though I was never able to directly hold and breastfeed her, I never felt that our bonding experience was lacking. I spent every day in the NICU with her, holding her as much as I could. I talked to her, sang to her, read books to her and sometimes just snuggled quietly. I actually think that, as a result of the fact that she was in the NICU for three months, I spent MORE time snuggling and bonding with her than I probably would have if we were at home. Every morning I left all the stuff (that was piling up like crazy) at home, and focused on her for the day at the hospital. If I had been home, I’m pretty certain I would have been more distracted by house responsibilities and other life things. Not only do I feel like Jenna and I have a phenomenal bond and healthy attachment, but I think that her daddy had more of chance to build the same sort of bonding and attachment, because her feedings were administered by syringe or pump and didn’t require my physical presence.
Whether you choose breastfeeding or formula is an important personal decision, but if you’re discovering that your child requires a feeding pump and think that this means breastfeeding is not possible, I would encourage you to talk with your doctor about the subject and make your decisions from there.