Having a baby in the NICU is never part of your plan. But unfortunately this becomes a reality for many moms (myself included).
Before my daughter was born, I imagined her being placed on my chest and breastfeeding fairly soon after she was born. It was supposed to be a magical bonding experience with breastfeeding front and center. But unfortunately that was not in the cards for us. Due to numerous complications, my daughter was quickly taken away from me and into the NICU where I didn't even get to hold her until days later, much less breastfeed. It was one of the most difficult times of my life.
Her stay in the NICU greatly derailed our breastfeeding goals as she was put on formula through a bottle for her entire stay. When it came time to try breastfeeding, she just didn't know what to do and I was heartbroken. We tried a nipple shield and that didn't help much initially either. It was incredibly painful and to top it off, I wasn't making enough milk. Not at all what I had hoped for. The first few weeks were spent trying to breastfeed through the immense pain, supplementing with formula, and pumping- it was exhausting (physically and emotionally).
I came incredibly close to giving up on breastfeeding, but there was this nagging voice in the back of my head saying "This is what you want- don't give up!" That's when I finally decided to reach out to La Leche League (at the insistence of my husband who knew how important breastfeeding my daughter was to me). Our local La Leche leader answered my call and took an hour out of her day to talk to me right away- through lots of tears she led me in the right direction. First, to an IBCLC to get assessed and get a plan in place. Then, she invited me to the next La Leche League meeting. From there, it was a rough road forward still, but that was the turning point. By about 3 months old, I FINALLY was exclusively breastfeeding my sweet girl and it was such an amazing accomplishment that I must admit I am very proud of.
For mom's struggling with similar issues after a NICU stay- I want to give you hope that the breastfeeding goals you imagined before ARE possible. My daughter was on almost 90% formula in the beginning. I rarely pumped more than an once in a pumping session. I was in incredible pain. We had to use a nipple shield for the first two months. But guess what, it got better. I found an incredible support system in La Leche League and it changed everything. We slowly weaned off formula. I put baby to the breast ALL THE TIME to help my supply. I took supplements. Eventually she was able to latch without the nipple shield (I think it helps as their mouth gets a little bigger).
It wasn't overnight or without tears and frustrations but we got there! Now breastfeeding is the easiest thing in the world to me and I couldn't imagine life without it. It may have been harder than average for us but I think that makes me appreciate it even more. My husband and I often say "TGFB!" (Thank God for Breastfeeding!) because it has made our life so much easier in so many ways!
NICU mamas- please don't ever hesitate to reach out to me for support!