NICU Talk

When breast is less…

Breast feeding my first born was a labour of love. My want to breast feed, turned into a had to breast feed, as I was kindly made redundant out of the blue shortly before giving birth. Suddenly, the thought of buying expensive formulas just didn’t make sense when Mother Nature had blessed me with good old gold top. Needless to say, I breast fed Little T until he was 9 months old. He grew strong, he grew healthy and even today, 7 years on, I can count on one hand the amount of times he’s been ill or visited the doctor in his young life. For that, I thank you breast milk.

Fast forward 6 years, my financial circumstance may be somewhat different but from the word go I wanted Baby J to have the same fantastic start to life as his brother did. Throw in being born 13 weeks premature, and once again, want became had. I had to give him those drops of gold.

Breast feeding a premature baby is far from easy. But I was astonished at how my body, with the suddenness of my son being brought into the world, wanted to breastfeed. With the help of a wonderful midwife and my husband (of all people) I was able to express those first precious drops of breast milk less than 25 hours after my emergency c section. Incredible. Yes, I was being milked like a cow from both angles, but it was worth every second.

If only the rest had been that simple. Long story short, despite three hourly expressing, stress got the better of me and I struggled with my supply. My initially willing body had done its job, and was now taking a back seat. ‘Try not to stress’ was the dreaded phrase I heard so many times during our NICU stay. Easier said than done. One of the most over used, ironic phrases I’ve ever heard. In the early weeks I just about managed to keep up with demands, but no sooner did I think I’d got ahead of myself with EBM, the nurses would smile sweetly and tell me his feeds had increased. Pleased as I was, the milk cow inside of me cried. But eventually, I managed to produce enough just enough milk to allow Baby J to start breast feeding. He took his first full feed at just 32 weeks. Oh the mind baffles at these tiny miracles!

We floated along with our heads above the water until we finally left the NICU. I had already accepted the fact at about week 5 that Baby J would have to be subsidised with formula, something which the stubborn side of me was dead against to begin with before common sense prevailed. Yes, he was going to have formula which was against all my principals; but he was still having a fair amount of breast milk from me and I was doing the very best I could. Expressing around the clock with a baby in NICU, young child at home and the weight of the world on your shoulders is plain hard work.

Neurotic expressing continued once we got home, followed by a slight static period of weight gain which my Health Visitor put down to the breast feeding. I was quite aware my milk supply wasn’t the same Niagara Falls it had been with Little T, I felt somewhat deflated by the phrase, ‘because your supply is low’ being brandished at these almost daily weight checks. My strong overall impression was, my HV didn’t want me to breast feed. At this point I was doing one breast feed per day, ‘top ups’ in between feeds if necessary and endless expressing. It seems liked a real contrast to the push towards breast feeding we hear endlessly about. The stubborn Capricorn in me took action with a trip to the doctors and that’s where Mr Domperidone came in.

Oh Domperidone. Marvellous Domperidone. Now whilst I’m well aware that various health related issues are linked to this drug, I simply want to pass on my breast feeding experience with it. For me, Domperidone was a god send. In little over a week my supply went through the roof, from expressing 20ml at a time to 70ml per sitting. When I put Baby J to the breast, I could hear him gulping on full mouth fulls of milk then gently dropping off into a milk coma. A wonderful feeling for any breast feeding Mum. Domperidone to me was a game changer. It made me believe again in what my body could do and gave me so much joy in seeing my son feed. But what comes up, must come down. Once my 30 day supply came to an end, so did the milk. A real blow. Hugely frustrating as it was that I couldn’t continue with the prescription, I had already anticipated that our relationship would come to an end.

With days of finishing the course of Domperidone, my supply started to dwindle again. Baby J was still rooting after a feed. Back to square one. As a last ditch effort, I decided to turn to Moringa supplements, as recommended by a breast feeding consultant. So knocking back these little green pills twice a day, as well as taking fenugreek tablets washed down with litres of oat milk, became my new habit. I’d actually been taking fenugreek for quite some time before Domperidone with little effect, but since I’d bought them, I figured I’d finish them.

Amazingly, after a few days, my milk supply increased again. Not quite to the dizzy heights of Domperidone, but near enough. Moringa you beauty. I’m not sure whether this is pot luck or coincidence, or whether actually I might be onto something, but this little ritual seems to be working for me. Breast feeding hasn’t come easy for me this time around but whilst I’m able to produce enough even for one feed, I’ll continue to keep feeding my son these precious drops. For Baby J, the medical complications that came with prematurity are my driving force behind making sure he gets the protection and goodness of breast milk. Brain development being at the heart of it.

One day I may look back and question why I’ve flogged myself silly to enable me to continue to breast feed, but right now it matters. The body might not be willing but the head is determined to prove it wrong!