Having a premature baby I anticipated there could be some challenges as we began our breastfeeding journey, however nothing quite prepared me for the challenges we would face.
Jett was born at 25 weeks and in the early weeks of his life he had multiple bowel perforations which can be common in premature babies. He was a very sick little baby and because of his gut issue he couldn’t tolerate even the tiniest bit of breast milk. For the first 17 weeks of his life, he was sustained on TPN (Total Parenteral Nutrition) and I expressed 8 – 10 times daily to keep up supply so when he recovered and was well enough I would have milk there for him. During this time my milk supply was up and down, sometimes I would only pump 30mls at a time from both breasts. Whatever I pumped though I froze, then when I ran out of storage space I donated some of my liquid gold to a mother who was unable to breastfeed and fed her baby on donor breast milk.
I hoped that with time and once Jett was able to be put to the breast my supply would increase. Finally when he was 135 days old he was able to breastfeed.
I put my baby to the breast and he took to it like a duck to water. Soon after, we were discharged, fully breastfeeding. I was so happy! 6 weeks later we had a hospital appointment and we were admitted the next day. Jett had lost on average 100gms a week since discharge and he was diagnosed with failure to thrive. Dr’s put it down to him having a bad latch, but I of course thought it was my supply. He was put on full nasogastric tube feeds which meant I had to pump 720mls a day. It didn’t happen. I was lucky to pump 300mls. Instead of resorting to formula, a friend of mine used social networking sites and put the call out for breast milk for us.. I had a woman respond immediately, she came to the hospital 2 days later with about 4L for us. Over the next 9 days, we weaned the tube feeds and got Jett back on the breast, but he started losing weight again. Upon discharge, Jett was breastfeeding, but still needed 500mls through the NG tube. A scoop of prescription formula was added to fortify EBM to assist with weight gain. I expressed as much as I could, but it still wasn’t enough. I began to rely on milk donors on a daily basis. I had called the milk bank near me and they informed me they charged $80 for 1.1L!! So more posts went up on social networking sites and again more breast milk came flooding in.
Jett was supplemented with donor milk for a total of 6 months. I have been asked many times why not formula? Isn’t it dangerous to give a baby another woman’s milk? While it is true that my son has had formula, it was never given to him to replace breast milk. It was simply given as a calorie booster. I never had any intention of replacing feeds with artificial milk when he can have human milk. The women that donate give full disclosure about their lifestyle, medications etc and have also shown me copies of blood tests. Women that donate their breast milk are as passionate as I am about giving human milk to human babies.
During the 6 months my son was given milk from at least 7 different women. I had a regular donor near where I live and had a few one off donations. The first time I received donor milk, it was from a woman that I had never met. I only spoke to her on the phone after she answered my call on Human milk 4 Human babies Facebook page. It was strange, yet, so natural. She drove to the hospital, I met her at the door we hugged, she gave me the milk and left. She continued to donate to me and eventually we were able to catch up and have a cuppa! My regular donor is a friend of a friend. I have only met her once. Her husband is the one that I picked the milk up from. Another donor was someone from playgroup, who upon finding out I fed bub donor milk offered her frozen stash.
Regardless of how many times I have met the women face to face, I feel like I ‘know’ them and they are all updated online with my son’s progress.
Having a low milk supply has been extremely tough emotionally. I felt like I was failing my baby, not being able to do what is ‘supposed’ to come naturally. Having a sick baby, trying to pump around the clock and still try and breast feed was very stressful and often made my supply issues worse. I will be forever grateful to the wonderful women who donated their precious milk. They gave me the gift of having one less thing to worry about. It took pressure off me in times of very high stress and they have given the greatest gift of nutrition to my son. I wish milk sharing was more widely accepted as the norm.I still struggle with supply so still express (once daily these days) as well as take prescription medication and natural galactologues. With the help of these things we are still breast feeding at 19 months and I hope to continue until we are both ready to stop