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Breastfeeding My NICU Baby

Brandie Valenzuela


I would never have imagined that my baby would be taken to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) shortly after his birth. While he was born a little early, 37 weeks and 3 days to be exact, we had a perfect pregnancy - no problems at all. I went into labor on November 24, 2000, and at 9:44pm, I gave birth to Matthew William through a cesarean section. My husband and I were just overjoyed at finally being able to meet our newest little blessing!

Shortly after Matthew's birth, he had to be taken to the NICU because of difficulty breathing. It was around 1am that the neonatologist, explained to me what was wrong with my baby, and asked me to sign several consent forms for procedures such as a blood transfusion and a chest tube. At this point, I still thought that Matthew might be able to room in with me -- and that I would be able to breastfeed him soon. The next morning, I was told that this would not be happening, and that Matthew would have to be in the NICU for approximately 3 - 7 days.

I had always planned on breastfeeding Matthew, so when I heard that he would be in the NICU for several days, I felt that I would miss out on that early bonding with my newborn. I wanted to hold my baby, I wanted to feed my baby, I just wanted to do all those things that a new mother does for her baby. As Matthew was on a ventilator and IV's, and receiving nourishment through his IV's, I was becoming more and more depressed.

The day after his birth, I reminded several nurses that I wanted to breastfeed my baby and asked them if I should be pumping. I was very concerned with making sure that I got my milk supply going and that I had the colostrum and early milk to feed my newborn when he was ready for it. The nurses agreed that I should be pumping, and they brought me a manual breastpump. I had a difficult time expressing the colostrum and I was sure to tell the staff, who told me that the hospital had an electric pump, which might work easier. I soon was able to start using the electric pump, and while it was slightly painful in the beginning, I was able to start expressing first the colostrum, and then the milk, with ease.

In the beginning, I was pumping very small amounts, but as I continued to pump every two to three hours, I was soon expressing more and more breastmilk. The hospital provided me with small plastic bottles to store and freeze the breast milk in, and explained to me to label each bottle with my name and the date and time of the pumping session. These bottles were then stored in a freezer located in the NICU.

When I was released from the hospital, and Matthew was not able to come home with me, I just cried and cried. It was an awful feeling leaving the hospital empty handed. I wanted so badly for my baby boy to be well, so that our family could begin our life with him. I almost felt like I hadn't given birth, that I wasn't a mother of a newborn. But the one thing that gave me a constant connection to Matthew, was the pumping of my breastmilk. Each time I sat down to pump, or each time I leaked onto my bra and blouse, I was reminded that I had a baby who was counting on me for not just love and care, but for the nourishment that only a mother can give. This made me really enjoy the pumping sessions, just as a mother enjoys feeding her newborn directly from the breast.

On December 1, 2000, after Matthew was in the NICU for one week, he was taken off of the ventilator. This was an incredibly happy moment for my husband and I, because we knew our baby was not far from coming home. I asked the NICU nurse about when Matthew would be able to nurse. It was explained to me that he would need to take my breastmilk with a bottle at first, because they wanted to monitor the number of ounces he was drinking. I was upset by this, because I knew all to well about newborns refusing the breast after being offered the easy-to-suck-from bottle nipple. The nurse explained to me that he would take to the breast just fine, even if he did nurse from a bottle first, and that babies don't get nipple confusion like Le Leche League would tell you. Well, I wasn't convinced, and at this point I become very worried about the problems I might encounter once Matthew as able to breastfeed.

Less than 48 hours after the ventilator was removed, Matthew was given his first bottle of breastmilk. How well he drank the milk would play a part in how soon he would come home, so you can imagine my happiness when he had done extremely well. All the nurse were quite impressed at how much breastmilk Matthew would drink in a sitting. Then finally the day came. We knew that Matthew would be coming home to us within the next day or so, but on the night of December 4th, 2000, I asked the doctor if I could try to nurse my now 10-day-old Matthew. She thought that was a great idea, and asked the nurse to help me find a more private area to nurse him. I followed the nurse to a quiet room, got comfortable in the recliner, and she handed me my precious baby. She asked if I needed any help getting him to latch on and I told her that I thought I could do it (I had breastfed my last baby), and she left the room. I loosened my bra to get my breast ready and I put Matthew's head in the crook of my arm and turned his belly to mine. I lifted my shirt and brought Matthew's little mouth to my nipple, where he latched on just like a breastfeeding pro. He sucked a few times, and would stop, but would start once again. It was the greatest feeling in the world.

As I sat there feeding Matthew for the first time, tears rolled down my cheeks. At that moment, I know I was the happiest mother in the entire world. I had my baby, snuggled against me, and I was breastfeeding him.

I am pleased to say that the next morning, our healthy Matthew was released from the hospital and we were able to take him home. Matthew has continued to nurse very well, and is becoming what we all love: an adorable, chubby, breastfed baby!

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Copyright 2001 Brandie Valenzuela About this author: Brandie Valenzuela is married and a mother of three children, who enjoys working at home as an editor and freelance writer. If you like this article, be sure to sign up for her free Family First Newsletter at: Or sign up for her free Daily Holiday Recipe ezine at:

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