September is Neonatal Intensive Care Awareness (NICA) Month and we have four mamas share their experiences of feeding and providing breast milk to their babies in NICU.
What is NICA Month?
Neonatal Intensive Care Awareness (NICA) Month is designed to honor families experiencing a stay in the neonatal intensive care unit and the health professionals who care for them. You can find out more about NICA awareness month here.
“I had hoped and planned for a home birth as I wanted minimal intervention. Then at 24 weeks, my waters broke in the night, and contractions started.
I drove myself to hospital, stopping along the way each time I had a contraction. I was in and out of labour for several days and eventually transferred to a specialist hospital a long way from home.
I delivered James naturally a few days later. I heard his little cry and then moments later I was rushed to theatre as I was bleeding heavily. I hadn’t really appreciated at the time how serious the situation was and that both of our lives hung in the balance.
Weighing just 1lb 6oz, James was moved to NICU. I didn’t see him for about 24 hours while I recovered. For the first few days he was given donor breast milk. I am eternally grateful to all the amazing women donating milk. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!
A wonderful nurse encouraged me to hand express my breasts and a few days later I produced a few precious drops of colostrum. I didn’t think I’d be able to produce milk for my premature baby but I was wrong.”
“During my pregnancy, I was admitted to hospital at 29 weeks. I stayed in hospital for 5 weeks until I was induced due to severe hypertension and early rupture of membranes at 33 weeks of pregnancy. As this was my second premature baby, I was prepared that I may not have the opportunity to breastfeed, as I was unable to do so with my previous premature baby.
Following the birth, baby was taken straight to NICU where she remained for 2 weeks. It was 48 hours before I was supported by a midwife to collect colostrum. I continued to collect colostrum until my milk was established, and then began to express. This was a tough time, no sooner was I expressing, it was time to go back to the hospital ready for baby tube feeds. Suddenly I felt so much pressure on myself to succeed.
Once my daughter was 10 days old, I was encouraged to try feeding. On the first go, baby successfully latched on! I can’t explain how incredible that feeling was of her first latch! I would then express and breastfeed as often as I could to enable baby to transition home.”
“Despite having three babies before – who were all born pre-term – absolutely nothing could’ve prepared me for Lenny arriving nearly 12 weeks early in January 2020. He was initially fed intravenously with TPN (Total Parenteral Nutrition) then he was able to start having my milk via NGT (Nasal Gastric Tube). It was tiny amounts to start then every hour / day as he tolerated it they increased.
Once Lenny hit around 32 weeks he started to latch on to the breast and I was led by him. Slow and steady to start with then the top-ups were given via tube.
As he got older the better he fed from the breast and the less he had via tube. This for me was a huge thing as I hated the volumes of feed he was given via tube after a breastfeed. Almost everytime it caused him to have huge desats (oxygen levels getting lower) and his heart rate would dip dangerously low. I lost count of the times he was bagged and masked to get him breathing again.”
“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!
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.”