Natural Parenting a Preemie – Part Two: The Power of Breastmilk

Now that you’ve read the birth story, let’s move on from the scary and into the positive!  Providing breast milk!

My son did not eat at all for the first 3 days of his life.  He got everything from IV nutrition, that we (and the staff of the NICU) called “Baby Gatorade”.  It even looked like the traditional Lemon-Lime flavored sports drink.  But you can’t survive on sports drinks alone!  (Although I do know several babies who lived on only “Baby Gatorade” for months.)  Once they cleared him for feeds I was ready and waiting with breast milk.

As soon as I was wheeled into my room in the Mother/Baby Unit after my c-section, I asked for a breast-pump and got to work.  And it is work, pumping is hard work – I bow down to women everywhere who pump! Getting your breasts to START making milk without a baby there is an added hurdle and it is a big one!

At first I didn’t get anything -  not a drop after 15 min of pumping.  Then 2 hours later I tried again. This time after about 10 min there was a DROP!  A thick yellowish drop of liquid gold!  “MILK!!”  I wanted to shout it out like an old-timesy prospector who had stumbled upon a gold mine!  There was gold in them-there hills!

Well, it wasn’t actually “milk”, it was better.  It was colostrum – an amazing substance that our bodies make for our newborns.  It is thick and sticky and comes in TINY amounts.  Think teaspoons rather than ounces. It is the PERFECT food for any and every baby, but so vastly important for a preemie.  (Read more about colostrum here:

After my triumphant pumping I looked down into the huge, 5 ounce bottle that came with the pump and felt my elation fade away. There was maybe 3 drops in the very bottom of the bottle.  I thought, “That’s not enough.  How are we even going to get that DROP up to him?  Is it even worth saving?”  YES IT IS!!  I had a great nurse who found me the tiniest syringe I had ever seen!  I think it was 1ml, but it may have been even smaller.  We labeled it with G’s info and sent it up to him in the NICU, once he was ready to eat there were several tiny syringes waiting for him, enough for a feeding.  His first meal was .5ml of my colostrum.

As the days went on I started to make more and more milk.  It took nearly a week for my milk to really “come in”.  It was at least that long before I was able to pump even one-half ounce at a time. But that was enough.  G started off eating slowly, via a tube down his nose that went directly to his stomach. On Christmas Eve, more than 3 weeks after his birth, I was allowed to bring him to breast for the first time.  He didn’t really latch, or get any milk, but it was a start.  And WOW!  I got so much more milk when I pumped after that!

For me, the power of breast milk wasn’t just in the nourishing properties of nature’s perfect food or the way it helped my son to grow.  The real power was its ability to hold ME together.  Pumping every 2 to 3 hours around the clock became my life-line to sanity.  I swear if it weren’t for pumping I would have lost my mind during the 52 days G was in the NICU.  Knowing that every time I pumped I was doing SOMETHING for my child made me feel so much better. I was giving him what he needed, it was the one thing I could do for him and I was going to do it no matter what. Now, that is power!

Thinking back to that time I realize there is so much I didn’t know about pumping and providing breast milk for a baby who cannot latch. I hope that what I’ve learned can help other moms who want to breastfeed, but can’t due to a variety of circumstances, and need to pump.

So, here is my list of “Things I wish I had known about pumping and breast milk!

1. Be sure to get a quality pump. I rented a Symphony from the hospital for the first month, then I just used Medela Pump In Style Advanced.  Any brand will work, but if you are going to pump regularly a double-electric pump with a let-down feature is really great.

2. PUMP every 3 hours or aim for 8 to 10 times a day. The more you pump, the more you’ll get!  But don’t forget to get some sleep too.  I was able to go 4 hours at night after the first 3 weeks.

a. Pump for 2-5 min. after the last drop comes out.
b. Aim for a MINIMUM of 15min each pump.

3. Use a chart to keep track of when and how much you pump. Look at 24 hour total, not individual pumping totals. Sometimes of the day you will make more than other times.

4. It can take over a week for your milk to come in, so don’t get discouraged if you aren’t pumping a lot at first.

5. If your baby is in the hospital, ask for extra set of pumping accessories and leave a set in your babies’ room and keep a set at home so you are never without.

6. If you are able to pump more than your baby needs at the time, start freezing it for later (or for donation).  I was really lucky and ended up pumping much more than my son needed.  I was able to donate breast milk to other NICU babies who needed it.

a. Freeze in 2oz amounts – that way you are less likely to waste any later.

7. Power Pump once every few days to build your supply. That’s 10 min on, 10 min off for one hour.  I would turn on a movie and power pump about once a week.

8. Get a hands-free pumping bra ASAP. It is hands-down (and free) the best $30.00 I’ve EVER spent! The pumping bra really helped me make the most of my pumping sessions.

9. Pump right after skin-to-skin contact with your baby. Being with your baby releases hormones that help with milk production.

10. Talk to a Lactation Consultant. They will have lots more tricks and tips.

(Here is a link to a great video about the Power Of A Mother’s Milk!)

Coming up next: Kangaroo Care!

About LittleBirdsMommy

I'm "Mum-Mum" to my super-strong 29 week preemie, G, who is now an amazing 2-year-old and our newest arrival the sweet Miss A, who joined our family in May. I work from home and try to find a balance between home and work, "crunchy" and corporate.
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3 Responses to Natural Parenting a Preemie – Part Two: The Power of Breastmilk

  1. Alexis says:

    I loved this post! Medela and I became very close friends throughout the month my little man was in the NICU. It was extremely hard to not blame myself and my body for failing. But I have to agree, pumping and knowing it was helping him to grow and progress was one of the few things that made me feel like a “mom” to him instead of a failure. Not only did it help him it also helped me and it helped us develop that bond that was missing at first.
    In the beginning it was so frustrating and hard to believe that my milk would come in, but like you said, that little bit of colostrum and that itty bitty needle was all he needed at that moment and it wasn’t long before I was filling our deep freeze with extra milk.

  2. withLOVE says:

    Thanks for another great post and video!!

  3. Elizabeth says:

    I agree with the other moms that these are a little small, but if your newborn doesn’t drink a whole four ounces at a time, it is great to be able to thaw only two ounces at a time. The good thing about these is that you can pump directly into them and freeze them. There is no need to transfer to a storage baggie thing and there is little or no chance that they will leak. When I was considering what to get, I kept reading about moms who pumped milk and then kept it in storage bags only to have it leak when thawed. Given the amount of time it takes to pump milk, to loose it to leaking bags is terrible. I only bought 12 of these and that was plenty – I am not a full-time working mom, so it was only to use sometimes when I was at school or working a few days in a row. If you work full time, you may want to buy two sets or even bigger ones. It is annoying to have to switch bottles several times while pumping.