First two weeks: I pumped and she used a feeding tube or bottles while staying in the NICU.
Two weeks to two months: We did the exhausting nurse, bottle, pump routine. It basically took over my entire life.
Two months to four months: We successfully transitioned to nursing exclusively. Claire ate as much and for as long as she wanted, but only gained a few ounces during this time. Sometimes preemies just hit a plateau like that.
Four months to seven months: Based on our pediatrician's recommendation, we nursed half the time and supplemented with formula the other half to help Claire gain weight. It worked like a charm, but my supply slowly, slowly disappeared.
Seven to twelve months: We had to rely on formula exclusively. And you know what? We all survived. Or dare I say, even thrived.
Things certainly didn't work out how I planned, but that's life, right? God sure has taught me a lot about "my plans" since becoming a mother. Nursing a baby who got a rough start to life is really, really hard. Especially if it's your first nursing experience. I'm confident that I tried my best and, well, that's all I can do.
But, there are still a few things I wish I had known. I feel like I was pretty educated about nursing. I took a class at the hospital, had a book for reference, and saw lactation consultants at both the hospital and the pediatrician. No one ever mentioned these two kind of important tidbits:
1. The shield is not your friend. You know what hurts? Nursing a five-pound baby who's already used to bottles. When our first try left me in tears, a kind NICU nurse brought me a shield and it instantly made things so, so much better. I always knew it wasn't really supposed to be a permanent thing, but I was so focused on getting rid of bottles that I didn't mess with the power of the shield. Once we transitioned to nursing exclusively, I did try to stop, but by that point Claire was so used to the shield that she honestly couldn't figure out what she was supposed to do without it. So, we just kept trucking along and only later did I learn that relying on a shield can decrease your supply.
At our hospital here in Seattle, if a nurse gives you a shield, she makes a note of it in your chart, and then you get a call two weeks later to see if you're still using it. And if you are, you get another call at the one-month mark. But no one in Pittsburgh ever, ever warned me about the repercussions of using a shield for an extended time. There's no warning on the box either. Maybe I'm just dumb, but something tells me I'm not the only one who's been in this situation...
2. Manual pumps are only meant to be used occasionally. For the first two months of Claire's life, we rented a hospital-grade pump. Her transition to nursing exclusively coincided with a month-long trip around the country to visit relatives. I brought a manual pump, thinking I might need to use it once or twice, but ended up using it a lot more than that. On road trips, it was much quicker to pump while Adam was driving and then give her a bottle, rather than stop for nursing sessions every two hours. We also had grandmas who wanted to babysit and we have a very strict policy of not turning down free babysitting!
After we moved to Seattle when Claire was around four months old, I invested in an electric pump and my hand muscles were extremely thankful for it. But relying on a manual pump as much as I did, along with the shield situation, probably didn't help with the slowly dwindling supply thing. This time around, our insurance provided a very fancy pump that I'm weirdly excited about using.
Okay, enough talk about nursing. I just really wish someone had clued me into this stuff, so I thought I would share it with you!