mama story: nursing my baby from the NICU to thriving is my biggest accomplishment in life

emma and gracie tubes.png

Thanks to Ema and Gracie from Madison, WI for sharing their beautiful story!

Gracie decided to surprise my husband and me on Mother’s Day, 7 weeks before her due date.

My water spontaneously broke, and there is still no known reason for her early arrival, other than her general impatience 

We were admitted into the NICU and I was cautioned by my doctor that there was a chance that pumping and breastfeeding would be a major challenge for us.

As a first-time mom, who had gone into labor so early I was told there was a chance I would have supply issues. I still vividly remember running up to the NICU floor in the middle of the night the first time I pumped more than just a few drops. The poor nurse was so sweet. She tried to match my excitement, but then told me they would let Gracie have a taste, but it wasn’t enough to even mix into her formula feed.

Gracie was just over 4 lbs when she was admitted to the hospital, and because of her early arrival she had not developed the “suck, swallow, breath” reflex that most babies have when they make the entrance to the world. She was fed exclusively through a feeding tube for her first three weeks, but she was a girl who knew what she wanted. Grace would regularly root and try and find my nipple when we were doing skin to skin contact, so I was hopeful that someday we would be able to nurse.

I felt very disappointed that we had to supplement her feeds with formula for the first few weeks as my milk came in and I diligently pumped every 2 ½ to 3 hours.

Once my milk came in though, it came in with a vengeance.

The lactation specialist explained it to me as, “Your body now thinks it is feeding a village. The pump is always hungry and your body doesn’t know how to taper yet.”

At about 3 weeks old, we finally got clearance to start attempting to nurse. Because of my oversupply, and comically strong let down, Gracie would often get sprayed in the face while trying to latch and consistently she would choke and stop breathing. It was terrifying to try and feed her and see the stats on her monitors drop. The doctors suggested that I stop pumping anything beyond my letdown and try and work through the discomfort in-between feeds with hand expression.

I was having a lot of anxiety and felt like I was hurting my baby. About a week into our journey a nurse suggested trying a nipple shield. It was a GAME CHANGER. The nipple shield made latching easier, and it would catch some of the speedy let down allowing Gracie to adapt easier. That combined with my supply adjusting slightly, created a boob monster.

Once she knew what she was missing, Grace went on hunger strike when I left the hospital.

I would come in in the morning and they would tell me how she has repeatedly refused the bottle and gone back to sleep. In the NICU, continued growth and weigh gain is a major consideration for going home, so finally I relented and started staying overnight at the hospital. Grace began exclusively breast feeding at about 4 weeks old, or 37 weeks gestational age.

Repeatedly I was told by the nurses and doctor’s that I had a very strong-minded baby, and that it was very unusual for a baby that arrived as early as Grace to leave the NICU exclusively nursing. We remained in the hospital for two more weeks while they ensured her breathing issues were in the past, and FINALLY we went home.

Grace continued exclusively breastfeeding while I was home for the remaining 6 weeks of my maternity leave.

By the time I went back to work she was up to 13 lbs, and I have to say it is my biggest accomplishment in life knowing that I helped do that for her. 

We were able to continue nursing until Grace was 13 months old. As a working mom, it was wonderful for me to have that time to connect with her everyday before and after daycare and before bed. On the weekends, it was great to have the convenience of nursing as we were out and about.

Once we moved through our initial challenges Gracie was a pro, and made it easy to nurse in public. We started weening around 12 months, and one day she just didn’t want anything to do with it.