Before I had my daughter I never had a birth plan, but one thing I did want was to be able to breastfeed. Little did I know I would end up suffering from severe pre-eclampsia and giving birth at just 30 weeks pregnant. Freya weighed just 2lbs and 10oz and I really wasn’t sure if breastfeeding a premature baby would be possible.
I had pre-eclampsia and hyponatremia
I was admitted to the hospital at 30 weeks pregnant with pre-eclampsia, a condition that causes high blood pressure during pregnancy and after labour. What added to the seriousness of my condition is that I also had low sodium and cortisol levels. It was only later on that I found out I was also suffering from hyponatremia – a low sodium concentration in the blood. Having pre-eclampsia and hyponatremia at the same time is quite rare.
It was a scary time and I was having regular growth scans to make sure my baby was growing ok. After a few days in hospital, I was told my baby girl would have to be delivered early due to my deteriorating health. Freya was born at 30 weeks and 3 days weighing just 2lb 10oz. I wasn’t sure if breastfeeding a premature baby was possible and thought our breastfeeding journey was over, but I was wrong.
Learning to hand express in ICU
A lactation consultant came to visit me in ICU to teach me how to hand express colostrum – also known as ‘liquid gold’ due to the health benefits it has for a baby. As I hadn’t yet met Freya (and wouldn’t for a few days) this gave me a connection to her and made me feel that I was doing something for my baby.
It was a difficult and terrifying time as we were so worried about Freya. Added to our stress was the fact my husband and I were often separated and unable to see our daughter together due to Covid-19 restrictions. The one thing we were able to do together was to collect colostrum. When I was discharged back onto the ward after a few days my husband helped me suck up those tiny precious droplets of gold in a 1ml syringe and deliver it to NICU at all hours.
My husband helped me suck up those tiny precious droplets of gold in a 1ml syringe and deliver it to NICU at all hours.Georgie
I pumped milk all day and night
It was when my milk came in that I was able to express for Freya’s tube feeds. I had no idea how to pump, never mind put a breast pump together! Once I was shown how, I began to pump at all times of day and night, making multiple visits to NICU with milk for my tiny little baby. The praise I got from NICU was encouraging. Knowing my baby was getting so much goodness from me kept me going despite being unwell.
When Freya got to 33 weeks we started to try feeding at the breast. I’d sit with Freya all day trying to get her to latch every two hours just before her feeds. By 34 weeks I was frustrated as it was proving really difficult to get her to latch on and feed. I was now going into NICU to do all the care for my baby but she couldn’t be discharged until she was 50% breastfeeding, in case there was a problem with her NG tube. People would tell me she’s too small to breastfeed but I was seeing another baby of the same gestation successfully feed. Breastfeeding a premature baby must be possible!
Breastfeeding really is a team effort
One day a lovely nurse spent an hour helping us. Despite all the videos and tutorials I watched whilst pregnant during lockdown I still didn’t realise how much of a team effort it actually is to get a good latch. Having the nurse help me was invaluable. The next week we carried on trying to breastfeed and soon we were getting somewhere.
By 35 weeks gestation, my tiny little girl was able to come home with no NG tube. She was now exclusively breastfed! After spending 37 days in NICU she was now weighing 4lb 4oz.
By 35 weeks gestation, my tiny little girl was able to come home with no NG tube.Georgie
We’ve come so far and I’m so proud
Don’t get me wrong it’s not been a smooth ride since we got home. Like others, we have had setbacks such as blocked ducts (me) and a dairy intolerance (Freya) but I’m so proud of how far we’ve come.
The continuous effort and perseverance we’ve both put in, and the support and encouragement from my husband, has meant we overcame all the obstacles to breastfeed successfully.
Freya is now steadily getting bigger and bigger. She has not once dropped her weight since being exclusively breastfed. I couldn’t ask for more than that!
Celebrating our breastfeeding journey with a dreamy photoshoot
Freya and I were gifted a beautiful breastfeeding photoshoot and I am so grateful we got to capture our special journey in this way.
What is Pre-eclampsia?
Pre-eclampsia is a condition related to blood pressure and can affect pregnant women during the second half of pregnancy or up to six weeks after delivery. It affects one of every 12 pregnancies and is the leading cause of maternal mortality and prematurity world-wide. According to the Preeclampsia Foundation, there are approximately 76,000 maternal deaths and 500,000 infant deaths linked to pre-eclampsia each year.
Pre-eclampsia can strike quickly and symptoms can include the following:
- High blood pressure
- Sudden swelling of the legs, feet, hands, face, neck
- A sudden increase in body weight from the fluid retention
- Headaches/visual disturbances
- The decrease in urine output.
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