by Melissa Hauser
I knew very early in my pregnancy that I was having triplets, and we would be spending time in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). My birthing plan was to make it to at least 31 weeks in order to have them at the level II NICU close to my house, and that my OBGYNs would deliver the triplets. After six weeks of bed rest, I delivered at 31 weeks and was the first and only triplets my OBGYNs have ever delivered. That always puts a smile on my face. They were as excited as I was.
I toured the NICU a few months before having the babies, so I had a rough idea how things would work. That doesn’t fully prepare you for a 6 week stay and all the things that go on around you. Right after delivery the babies were in open units, and by the time I was wheeled down to see them, they were hooked up to IVs, monitors, feeding tubes and oxygen. It is hard for a momma to get a good look at her babies like that. There was no holding them, I could only touch them and look at them. They were so tiny! Noah (aka Bubba) was 3lb 11oz, Harrison 2lb 15oz, and Chloe 3 lb. 1 oz.
For the first few days the triplets were being given nutrition through their IVs. None of the nurses that were taking care of me even mentioned breastfeeding or pumping, for that matter. I didn’t really have warm fuzzies about breastfeeding three babies, so it didn’t bother me at the time. In my mind I pictured myself being hooked up to a baby all the time. By day three, the babies were ready to receive nutrition through the feeding tube, and the NICU nurses started talking to me about pumping, aggressively, to the point that I felt pressured and guilted into pumping and even felt the nurses were being mean to me because I didn’t want to pump.
Before going home on day 4, I decided to pump, and let me just say, it was not a good experience for me. It was very difficult to get the colostrum/milk flowing. I can remember the lactation consultant squeezing, and it really hurt. On the bright side, the NICU nurses were much nicer too me after that. Hindsight has me thinking about the advice I would give the hospital about how to work with NICU mommies, better ways to talk to moms about breastfeeding, and the benefits for the babies, especially premature babies.
I began my daily routine for the kids: get up, pump, go to the hospital, hold each baby for a little bit, pump, eat lunch, hold babies, pump, hold babies, pump … Because the babies were so early they didn’t have a suck reflex and all the milk was given to them through the feeding tube. We would hold one of them and also have to hold the tube up in the air to let gravity take the milk to the stomach. All of this was attached to a large mechanical thing that monitored them. This went on through their 34/35 weeks, until the neonatologist felt the babies could start learning to suck.
Premature babies in the NICU are treated very different when it comes to feeding. Every cc the babies ingest is measured and charted. I was never given an option to physically try and breastfeed. I always had to pump, and then it was put into a bottle. I was never able to establish a good milk supply. I took supplements, ate well, got sleep, but I was never able to get more than 2-4 oz at a time. Four ounces was a great pump for me. Maybe if I had been allowed to pump near the babies, I would have produced more. You just don’t know. I never had the experience of feeling my milk coming in. I just pumped on a schedule. I made it four weeks pumping and then decided to stop. It is hard when you know you are not supplying your babies with enough milk on your own. It left me feeling a little defeated.
Nursing was the hardest thing for the babies to learn and for me to have go through with them. Each baby had to learn the process of sucking, swallowing and breathing. They were hooked up to monitors that measured their oxygen intake and an alarm would go off when they went below 84. This happened a lot the first week they were learning. It took months for me to get that alarm out of my head. Feeding time was a scary time for a while always looking at the monitors to make sure everything was OK. It was wonderful to come in in the morning and hear that they did great during feedings throughout the night.
To come home, each baby had to reach the goal of drinking 2oz of milk and having no breathing episodes. They had other goals, but this was the really important one. One by one they were starting to meet this goal. Noah was the first one to come home after about 5 weeks in the NICU. At 5 lbs. 6oz, he was still my big boy. Harrison was able to come home just two days later weighing 5lbs. The little princess had the most trouble, she was only drink 1 oz of milk at a time. The NICU nurses finally said she just needed to go home because they felt she would do better. They were right.
It has been almost eight years since my munchkins where in the NICU. I thank God every day that they are healthy and happy kids that drive their momma crazy. I hope the hospital that I delivered in has advanced in the way they promote breastfeeding and or pumping and the way they treat moms who feel that it is not something they feel comfortable doing.
Ameda strives to present you with accurate and useful breastfeeding information. This article may contain information and ideas that are not necessarily the views of Ameda. It does not constitute medical advice. If you have any questions please contact your healthcare professional.