Although my first son was born naturally, after already 3 weeks in hospital with severe pre-eclampsia it was crystal clear that my second child would be delivered by C/S – a hindrance for breastfeeding, or so I have heard. After already nourishing my first child with mothers milk for 22 months I was confident I had the required skills under my belt for a second successful journey!!
In the very early hours of the 8th December 2008, my health took a turn and my son was born by emergency instead of elective C/S at 37 weeks. I knew this was how my baby was to be born though and still had dreamy visions of laying him on my chest and breastfeeding him seconds after birth. After what seemed a life time though, the doctors ran with him out the door and down the hall while a nurse was left behind to explain to my husband and I that he wasn’t coping very well with life. A few hours later, before I was in a position to even lay eyes on him, I was told that the Royal Flying Doctor Service were sending up a retrieval from the Mater Childrens Hospital who would be escorting him back to Brisbane soon after they arrived. My legs were still numb from the spinal but I knew if I didn’t get out of my hospital bed and into a wheelchair, I wouldn’t get to see him before he left…. or maybe even alive. At around 8am and 6 hours after his delivery, I pushed through the intense pain and got out of bed and into a wheelchair. I made it to the SCN in time where I was able to see my boy strapped up inside the transport cot before they wheeled him out.
For the next 3 days, I remained in my local hospital while my son was 700km’s away and very very sick. I spend this time expressing while looking at a single photograph of my son that a nurse took for me before he left. The photo though was of a baby that I had never touched, who was fully ventilated and covered in wires. Combined with an early and sudden delivery, it was not enough to produce even a drop of colostrum. Well meaning friends told me to give up on the idea of breastfeeding. It’s too hard, it’s too stressful they would say. At this point though, sitting in hospital alone trying to get that one drop of anything for my newborn son was the only thing keeping me focused and preventing me from crumbling.
While in hospital in Brisbane, my son was fed nutrients from a drip in preparation for my arrival. I asked my husband if they were giving him any formula at all.
He said no, a nurse told him that the drip was a far better option, especially for a child so sick. On the afternoon of the 3rd full day of mother/baby seperation, I was transferred to Brisbane with the RFDS as an inpatient. I was myself still very unwell with pre-eclampsia and was admitted into the Mater Mothers Hospital where I remained for a further 8 nights before moving into Ronald McDonald with my husband. On arrival I was so excited to be so close to be near my baby though who was only 3 levels down in the NICU!! I soon as I lay eyes on him, I felt the milk flow in and within seconds they were full and hard and leaking!!
Before I arrived my son had already been through 1 minor surgery to keep him alive in preparation for his major operation on his heart. A nasal gastric tube was inserted for feeding now that I had arrived and I got straight onto expressing. I was still not able to hold him as he was in a sterile environment but just looking at him was enough to keep some milk up and I expressed about 25ml’s every 4 hours… sufficient when he was only on about 2ml an hour!! Because of his limited intake, over the next few days I managed to collect a fairly impressive frozen stockpile!! (For some reason I never did produce any colostrum.)
On day 7 after his marathon 9 hour open heart surgery (and now in PICU at the Childrens Hospital accross the road) he was nil by mouth for around 7 days.
I was still expressing around the clock to keep up supply and was pleased that beside his bed in the PICU was a breast pump that I could use whilst being right next to my baby. I was frustrated by my pesky 20-25ml efforts, but the nurses were exceptionally encouraging and put on a fanfare every time I added another (albeit small) container to the freezer!!
After his week of nil by mouth, they began weaning him onto 1ml an hour then 3ml an hour etc of EBM through the NG tube. We were able to cuddle him at this point but I still couldn’t put him to the breast as he was too heavily dosed on drugs. I was determined to not let the stress of open heart surgery combined with not putting bub to the breast affect our breastfeeding relationship outside hospital life.
25ml’s was not a not ideal in normal circumstances but I had to remind myself not to stress and remain practical. The pump of course was not withdrawing what my baby would.
At just over 2 weeks old I put him to the breast for the first time. To my astonishment, he latched on beautifully and drank an entire feed. You wouldn’t believe how pleased I was!! :D Here was my frail, scrawny little baby, having lost 900g and now just under 2kg looking up at me as if to say “mamma, where have you been my whole life!!” Up until this point.. friends and family would still persist by putting their hands on my shoulder and say things like “let it go, give him a bottle, people will understand, it’s too much pressure on you.” The thing is though that for me, the thought of NOT being able to BF was far more stressful then the round the clock expressing!!
I went home from hospital with LOADS of EBM but I made a decision to throw it away. At that point, successful BFíng was still too good to be true and I did not want to compromise that by giving him a bottle. I should also mention that they did offer to feed DS2 the EBM though a bottle rather then the NG tube once he was improving from surgery… but before I could hold him at the breast. I declined this and preferred that he be fed through the NG tube. They didn’t care either way, but I really didn’t want to have attachment issues and I believe this was the absolute best decision and reason why we got such a good attachment first go.
My son is now 22 months old and still enjoying mothers milk. I have now successfully breastfed though a 3 day 700km separation from my son at birth.
We have breastfed though 2 minor surgeries -
the first at one day old and the second at 5 months old. We have also successfully breastfed though 2 major open heart surgeries, the first at 7 days and his second on the 23rd of September 2010 at 21 months old. Together my son and I got through it all without a drop of formula and I can proudly say that he has been the healthiest ‘sick’ kid I know. Actually he has the best general health of any kid I have come across and has experienced only 1 mild cold, has never had gastro, vomiting or so much as an ear infection either despite me being told over and over how much more susceptible he is to these things. I am exceptionally proud of our breastfeeding relationship and can advocate first hand how possible it is to BF even in the most extreme and extenuating circumstances. A little determination goes a long way!!!