09/08/2013 10:52 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Breastfeeding Chronicles: I Pumped For My Micro-Preemie


It took Amy, a married software developer, seven years and multiple rounds of IVF to get pregnant with her daughter, who is now 2. Amy had hoped to have a relatively normal delivery and to breastfeed afterward, but when her water broke at 24 weeks, plans changed. In the next installment in The Breastfeeding Chronicles, Amy opens up about what it's been like to pump for her baby girl, who was born a micro-preemie, for two years.

Early Days

One of the reasons why I was so determined to breastfeed is because getting pregnant had become such a scientific process, with all these chemicals and injections. I was determined to at least have the breastfeeding part be natural.

But our daughter was a micro-preemie, after an emergency C-section. She was born at 24 weeks, 2 days due to an infection. She was only 1 pound, 5 ounces. I happened to be in the hospital, getting something checked out, and all of a sudden my water broke. It was two and a half weeks before we could even hold her.

I started pumping on the second day I was in the hospital. They -- the NICU nurses and lactation consultants -- made it so clear that it was important, because our daughter was in such critical condition. It was definitely touch and go.

She was so small, she was hooked up to [intravenous nutrition] at first. But it's important for micro-preemies to get breast milk as soon as they can to help prevent certain diseases and infections, and it helps a lot with development and growth. They really wanted me to build up a stock -- the nurses in the NICU kept asking, "Are you pumping? Are you pumping?" [laughs] Our daughter had my breast milk for the first time on probably the third or fourth day -- just a drop. She got, like, 2 milliliters, if you can imagine how tiny that is.


Our Pumping Routine

I hated pumping at first. I was trying to hold these things on me, trying to use the machine, and anytime I actually got milk, I'd be spilling it everywhere [laughs]. Plus, you have to get up in the middle of the night and I was so tired -- I was in the hospital for 11 days myself because I was recovering from the C-section and the initial infection, and then I managed to get another infection while I was there. When you're sick, the only thing you want to do in the middle of the night is sleep -- or see the baby. But instead I had to be attached to this ... thing.

Once I was released from the hospital, I'd usually go and be with her for between six and 10 hours a day. She was there for a total of 138 days.

About two months in, I realized I was a low producer. She was so little, she wasn't eating very much at that point, but the neonatologists were concerned that as she grew, I wasn't going to have enough milk for her. There were many reasons, but stress was one of the biggest. I also wasn't drinking enough water, or eating the foods you need to eat, because I was always at the hospital. Once she hit maybe 2 pounds, I started skin-to-skin with her -- holding her at my breast without actually breastfeeding -- which helped with supply a lot. The hospital encouraged it -- as long as she was healthy and breathing OK they would let me hold her.

Maybe a month and a half before she left the hospital, we started breastfeeding. She would just get a tiny, tiny amount. We would do it for a few minutes, never very long, because she wore out easily. But we did it!

Moving Home

By the time we went home, I'd been breastfeeding her once a day in the hospital -- on good days, we'd try for twice. The plan was to continue that, and then after a couple of weeks, increase the number of times a day we breastfed. (She also got bottles of breast milk supplemented with formula to help give her the calories she needed.)

But she always took a couple sips, and then she'd fall asleep. It seemed like I'd forgotten everything we'd learned in the hospital. I ended up breastfeeding her, she'd fall asleep, then I'd lay her down, and pump. When she woke up, we'd give her the bottle -- it turned into this kind of endless routine, and at that point, I'd gone back to work. It came down to, "Should we do this same, long routine over and over, or should I just pump, give you a bottle, and we can both get some sleep?" Eventually -- after about two and a half months -- I gave up on the breastfeeding and began just pumping exclusively.

Two Years, Still Pumping

I'm down to two pumps a day and I'm going to stop when she turns 2 years old. [When we spoke to Amy, her daughter's birthday was a week away.] But for a long time I was pumping seven times a day.

Originally, I was only going to pump until she turned 1. But because she was born so early, they do this thing called "adjusted age," and the developmental doctor we see said we should try and pump for at least one year, according to her adjusted age. I thought I'd go to November of last year, then it was, "I might as well go to Christmas." Finally, it was like, "Well, why stop now?" [laughs]

I have mixed feelings about stopping. I really, really hated pumping -- you're stuck to that pump, and it takes time away from the baby -- until I dropped down to four pumps a day. At that point, it wasn't so bad, it wasn't interrupting my life. But I did get up, every night for a year and a half, at 3 a.m. So yeah, physically, I'm ready to stop.

But it's hard, emotionally, to think about it -- I feel like this is one way I've really helped her. I'm not a doctor, I didn't do very well being pregnant, obviously, but at least I've been able to give her breast milk. When your baby's born that early, you're so helpless. The one thing you're supposed to be able to do once you have the baby is take care of it, and you can't do anything -- the baby's attached to all these wires and tubes. So for the first four months, when she was in the hospital, I felt like, "That's MY job." It gave me a reason to keep going every day.

Going Forward

Our daughter's in very good health, she has a couple of problems she'll probably outgrow -- like high blood pressure, and she's smaller than other kids her age. But all the other side effects of being born that early, she's already grown past them.

This account has been edited and condensed.

In celebration of World Breastfeeding Week (Aug. 1-7), HuffPost Parents participated in "I Support You," an initiative to collect photos and messages from mothers to each other that say we might lead different lives but we share wanting the best for our children. Find out more here.



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