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Breastfeeding Premature Infants: Navigating NICU Feeding With Preemie Twins

Daphne Thompson | November 22, 2021

The breastfeeding journey can be a tough one to navigate for any new parent. For the parent of a premature infant, it may feel all the more challenging. For the parent of premature twins being cared for in the NICU? The pressure and anxiety around keeping your healing babies nourished are bound to feel entirely overwhelming.

As so many mothers and parents-to-be do, Milk Drunk contributor Karen Gill felt prepared to breastfeed her twin babies. Before they were born, Karen said, “I’ve always believed breast is best and I was determined to breastfeed our twins. I watched YouTube videos, read the books, and talked to people about it.” In spite of her preparations, the reality turned out to be very different when her babies came early: “Nothing prepared me for how our feeding journey unfolded. At 29 weeks my waters broke in my office, I rushed to the hospital. I was in shock.”

Feeding in the NICU, After C-Section

In the hospital, Karen says that “steroids were administered. Somehow I managed to hold on two more weeks before my tiny babies were delivered.” After they were born via C-section (which Karen says she requested thinking it was the safest option), she remembers, “I kissed them and they were rushed to NICU. I never got that moment when they are put on your chest and you get to hold your babies for the first time. That first bonding moment was taken away, we didn’t get to snuggle or initiate breastfeeding.”

Hours after being separated from her newborns so that they could receive NICU care, Karen says she started collecting colostrum from her breasts by hand-expressing and using a syringe, and then went right to pumping in an effort to produce milk to bring to her babies. In spite of her efforts, Karen says “I had huge difficulty trying to establish any kind of milk supply. I had a C-section, and I wasn’t getting the biofeedback of holding my babies and nursing them. Triple Feeding is a term given to feeding when you are doing it all. This involves nursing (or attempting to nurse by putting the baby to the breast), pumping, and then bottle feeding (breast and formula milk). I had to leave the hospital after a week and go home leaving our babies there. This was devastating as we walked out the door, watching other parents beaming with their beautiful chubby babies.” During her week stay in the hospital, Karen says she only saw a lactation consultant once, and it was the only one in the entire hospital.

Feeding at Home, After the NICU

Karen recalls that after finally getting to bring her twins home from the hospital a month after they were born, joy turned to stress as she struggled to keep her preemie babies healthy at home and “the relentless cycle of quadruple feeding began – trying to breastfeed, pumping, bottle feeding pumped milk, and topping up with formula for two babies, washing bottles, and starting again. I had about 15 minutes (if even) between one cycle ending and another starting. Showers and sleep were in short supply, along with my milk.”

The endless and draining routine was not producing the results she hoped for, and Karen says that back home, “One of my twins breastfed a little ( I think) our other baby just cried and cried when I tried to put her to the breast. It became a huge source of stress… The last straw came when over the Easter weekend I developed mastitis… I had to go to the hospital, the doctor wanted to admit me as the infection was so bad. I just broke down, the thoughts of being separated from my babies again was just too much to take… It began to dawn on me that breastfeeding was not really worth all of this.”

After careful consideration, Karen’s “breastfeeding journey came to an end. I just couldn’t do it anymore, I combination fed my twins for 11 weeks, and then we moved to full formula. Life changed, I got to sleep more as I wasn’t quadruple feeding or awake half the night pumping. Our twins then started sleeping through the night. I got to just focus on enjoying and bonding with my little precious babies. I realized that feeding them was just one part of being a good mom.” Karen acknowledges the added strain that comes with feeling judged by others if you don’t, or can’t breastfeed – especially when breastfeeding was the journey you so desperately wanted.

Her advice to other parents in her situation is that “bonding with and enjoying time with your baby is most important. Breastfeeding should not be at the expense of a mother’s mental health; it shouldn’t be so stressful that it hinders bonding with your baby.”

Infant Feeding Resources

If you are struggling to feed your newborn or feeling undersupported as you navigate breastfeeding, please know that you’re not alone. There are many amazing brands, products, providers, and publications dedicated to making your experience as positive and productive as possible.

Here are some carefully-curated Mama Glow resources here to help you get started:

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