An honest view of motherhood.

We don’t need no education. Except that we do.

Before we had our premature baby, we didn’t know anything about what it would be like to have one. Why weren’t we warned? Why didn’t we know what it would be like? But, you have to ask yourself, why would we? I mean, no-one really needs to know about having a premature baby, unless you actually have a premature baby, right? Why would the NHS scare an expectant mother by telling her all the nitty-gritty details of being on a neonatal ward, or taking your premature baby home?

It’s right that us mum-to-be’s aren’t told all the horrors, but it’s not right that once you have a premature baby there is little information available for you to find out warts ‘n’ all about having a prem baby.

That’s how I felt. How we both felt. It was all new to us, and every day was a shock. The machines, the beeping, the incubator, the nurses, the expressing… oh, the expressing! When we were first told we’d be in the neonatal unit for a while we thought it might be a couple of weeks. They said it could be 2 weeks, or it could be until his due date – which in our case was 7 weeks. Of course, we thought it would only be 2 weeks and it wouldn’t be that much of an ordeal. We were so blinded with the shock of what had happened I don’t think we were really listening. It wasn’t until we were going to the hospital day in, day out, did we start to realise actually how hard it was, or how long we were going to be there. It was devastating and I don’t think we’ll ever quite forget how it felt.

Why am I going on about this now? I’ve recently been made aware of a charity called Tommy’s. Crazy I’d not heard of them before as they seem quite established, but basically they are a charity that fund research and provide information on the causes and prevention of miscarriage, premature birth and still birth. They’ve just launched a brand new booklet about having a premature baby, and I would have loved to have had a copy when we were in our neonatal unit.

Don’t get me wrong, we weren’t completely in the dark. We were given the best NHS information available, but this new guide is so much better than what we had (I’ve just received my copy in the post – it’s FREE!). It talks you through absolutely everything – even the hospital stay bits. It’s really well presented and has real life quotes from real life parents that have gone through exactly the same thing as you. I read it pretty much cover to cover last night and still found out new information! And I know this shouldn’t be important, but it looks and feels lovely too. Surprising considering they are a charity, but they received a grant from the Asda Foundation which means it’s a quality booklet and smells of posh glue.

Brand new booklet - looks and smells delish

I guess what I’m trying to say is if you are reading this and are at risk of having a prem baby, have just had a prem baby, or just want to know more about it, you’d do well to order yourself a copy. It’s available for free right now at www.tommys.org/store.


Breastfeeding made me a bit bonkers

Bonkers – one of my favourite words. For me it describes a slight mental imbalance without sounding too serious. I would definitely describe myself as bonkers during the start of my breastfeeding journey.

Some people think I'm bonkers

Giving birth to a premature baby has all sorts of challenges, but the main one for me was establishing feeding. To start off with I had a traumatic birth. My baby boy was an undiagnosed breech and I delivered him naturally (yeeouch!). The hospital wanted to do an emergency C-section, but the little blighter was coming way to quickly for that. My waters broke at 8:30pm and I had a baby 3 hours later.

One of the most traumatic things about giving birth to him was that I couldn’t be with him straight away. They whisked him off and he was put in an incubator so they could make sure he was OK. Luckily he was perfectly healthy, and aside from being early, there was nothing wrong with him.  We spent the next 7 weeks in a neonatal unit (intensive care, then special care) patiently waiting for him to cook and be ready enough for us to take him home.

I remember the first moments after they took him away. I was wheeled out of theatre and back into the hospital room and my partner went to see our new baby. He came back into the room to report back to me that thankfully everything was fine and that our new baby was beautiful. I noticed he was holding a bag full of syringes. Weird. He said to me that a nurse said I had to “express”. I had no idea what he was talking about, and neither did he as no-one had explained it to him. They eventually wheeled me to see my baby for a few minutes before transferring me to the labour ward. I laid awake all night in utter shock and disbelief at what had happened.

The next day I got up and ran (hobbled) down to see my baby in the neonatal unit. A nurse asked me if I had started “expressing” and I still didn’t know what it meant. I think the nurse must have noticed that I looked like a little-girl-lost and took pity on me. She sat me down and showed me how to ‘hand express’ my first colostrum. I literally could not believe what was coming out of my nipples! It was like bright yellow puss. It looked pretty gross if I’m honest, but the nurse got all excited and happy and said it was brilliant. She told me to go and fill a 1ml syringe by dripping the colostrum into it bit by bit. I thought there was NO WAY I could fill a whole syringe and I suddenly felt a lot of pressure on my shoulders. She said it was really important that I give this colostrum to my baby as it was full of all the nutrients and vitamins he would have otherwise got in the last few weeks of my pregnancy. PRESSURE. Understanding the importance of what I had to do I went off and got to work. By the next morning I had filled 7 x 1ml syringes. I was like a proud peacock! The colostrum was fed to my baby via a tube in his nose. Heartbreaking, but it felt great knowing I was giving him the good stuff.

7mls of the good stuff

We then got transferred to another hospital and the first thing the nurses asked me was “are you expressing?”. I had never realised how important expressing was, or indeed what is was. They encouraged breastfeeding as soon my baby was ready enough to be held and his suck reflex had kicked in. I ended up expressing with an electric pump every 3 hours to keep up my milk supply and trying every single feed to breastfeed. I am very thankful that I had lots of milk. I couldn’t believe the quantities I was producing. I was producing so much that I was freezing most of it and taking up most of the freezer in the hospital. Also, at times I would get so engorged that the pain was unbearable. In fact, once I ended up in A&E and given morphine because I was so engorged – the milk was going to places it shouldn’t (gross). My baby was being giving my milk via his nose tube and I was constantly working with him to try and breastfeed.

It never happened. He never latched on and I was devastated. I’d worked so hard to keep up my milk supply – expressing every 3 hours around the clock – and still nothing. I thought he didn’t like me and that I couldn’t satisfy my baby. The nurses said he would get it eventually, but he never did.

I carried on trying, every single feed, and expressing every 3 hours for 7 weeks. I’ve lost count of the times I nearly gave up. The support from my partner was amazing and he helped me carry on. In the end we were just so desperate to have our new baby home that we decided to put my breast milk in a bottle and give it to him that way. We eventually got him home on his due date and feeding continued via the bottle.

Expressing started to make me bonkers. The sound of the breast pump would ring in my ears, my back would ache from the position I would have to sit in, not to mention the hundreds of milk bottle labels I had to write (name, date, time). My entire life was all about expressing – it was all-consuming.

I was still very keen to breastfeed, even after all we’d been through. I found support through The Breastfeeding Network and went to breastfeeding groups and eventually, when our baby was 10 weeks old he latched on! I couldn’t believe it. I was crying with happiness. All this time, all this effort, and it was finally paying off. My milk supply was still really good because I’d carried on expressing.

I thought that was that – we were breastfeeding now, woohoo! Haha, how naive was I?! The next 3 weeks were utter hell. You name it, I had it. Sore, cracked, bleeding nipples, Mastitis, milk blebs, blood blisters. Once we even ended up in A&E because the little one was vomiting blood. It took the paediatric nurses and doctors 3 hours to work out he wasn’t vomiting his blood, he was vomiting my blood. OHMYGOD! I was relieved he was OK, but in shock that things had gotten this bad. The pain was gut-wrenching, toe-curling bad, but I kept attending breastfeeding groups and my partner carried on being as supportive as ever. Eventually, things got better and 3 weeks later my baby was feeding like a pro. Feed by feed the pain reduced and finally we began PAIN FREE breastfeeding.

Now I can really say WOOHOO! I’m so pleased I persevered. It’s so amazing to be able to feed my baby and know he’s satisfied. He’s currently 6 months old and constantly gaining weight.

My friends, family and other mothers often ask me why I persevered so hard. I honestly don’t know. I think I felt pressured by the nurses and knowing that breast milk was the very best thing I could give my baby. I know that formula isn’t bad at all and that millions of babies are perfectly healthy being formula fed, but for some reason I had to breastfeed. The feeling was so strong I couldn’t explain it. I think it’s really important to go with your gut instincts on these things, but also know that every baby is different, as is every mother, and at the end of the day, you just have to do what is right for you.


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