Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Triumphant Tuesday: Breastfeeding a Premature Baby

Never is breastfeeding more important than when a baby is premature. However studies have shown that the shorter the gestational period of the baby, the shorter the length of breastfeeding (Meier 2001; Buckley and Charles 2006). Why? One reason is that mothers are being sabotaged by the medical profession. Many of the 'techniques' used to save the lives of premature babies were developed during the 1960’s and 1970’s when breastmilk, never mind breastfeeding, wasn’t a priority in neonatal intensive care units. Unfortunately, despite what the medical profession have learned since that time about how to help mothers and babies to breastfeed, NICU’s seem to be resistant to change the way babies should be fed. This mother's story is a timely illustration of this unjustifiable state of affairs.

Having breastfed my first two babies, I felt pretty confident when I fell pregnant again.

However, this baby was premature. Following a quick cuddle just after he was born, the doctors took him away to monitor him.


Sam was a good weight and healthy so their only initial concern was that he could feed (so why separate us?) I had said that I did not want him to have formula as I was determined to breastfeed. The medical staff simply responded, "So you hope to breastfeed, do you?", which may not sound overly negative but they never gave positive reactions to my telling them that I was going to breastfeed. I wasn't hoping to - I knew I was going to. It felt like I was being subtly undermined. Then one doctor gave the line of "Well, if we need to, we will have to give him formula". I was more than happy to express to appease their obsession with measuring intake but while we were separated, they gave him formula. I'd had a c-section so couldn't get out of bed to get to him and because it was the middle of the night, my husband had been sent home. So the doctors gave him formula behind my back, without my consent.

Baby Stops Breathing

Then Sam got ill. The next morning, when my husband went to bring Sam to me, he was told that our baby was in intensive care. Sam had stopped breathing in the night and needed to be resuscitated. I hadn't been informed of his deterioration - my husband had to tell me everything. We weren't even told the whole truth and it was only recently that we found out exactly what happened to him that night. I was confused and incredibly scared. Sam had a pneumothorax and I was not allowed to hold him or feed him for 8 days. He was locked into an intensive care incubator and needed a machine to breath for him. He had all sorts of wires coming in and out of his body and I genuinely did not know whether he was going to make it or not. I was told not to touch him too much as it could cause him to be even more distressed, so I just sat there, looking at him through his the incubator glass, hoping that everything would be ok. This was about 12 hours after he had been born and I'd had a c-section so I relied on my husband to wheelchair me around. I bought a pump and expressed every 3 hours day and night.

Tube Fed

Once he was able to start having milk, Sam was tube fed for the first few days then moved onto a cup when he got a bit stronger (using my expressed breast milk of course). Eventually, we were able to achieve one successful latch per day. The staff kept telling me "We can't let him go home with you unless he's feeding properly and it's difficult to see what he's having if he's breastfeeding, whereas if he had a bottle, he could go home". I ignored them, despite desperately wanting to take him home, as I knew that breastmilk was what he needed. After a few days of pleading with staff, they agreed to let me have a room in the ward so I could prove I could manage 24 hours of feeding him from the breast without any assistance. I did this and they duly let me take him home. Since being at home, he's been fine and 20 months later, we're still breastfeeding.


It would have been so easy to have just given up on breastfeeding, especially as we were separated for so long. I was absolutely determined that he was going to be breastfed. I'd struggled through booby traps (mastitis three times, low weight gain) due to bad advice with my 1st child so I wasn't going to give up with my 3rd. The hospital could have been a lot more supportive and it worries me that their attitude means many women give up breastfeeding when they could actually do it.

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