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My Amazing Premie

Stella Eloff
Tuen Mun Hong Kong
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 24 No. 1, January-February 2007, pp. 16-18

My beautiful baby girl, Kaydee, was born at 30 weeks and three days. She weighed under three pounds. Her birth happened so fast -- it was all a huge surprise! I had just come back from a trip to Bangkok, Thailand and the next day in the early evening I started having contractions. At 9:15 in the evening, I decided I'd better go to the hospital. I was given an injection to slow the labor and an internal examination. Then I suddenly started pushing. After five pushes, my baby came out. It was all so fast I didn't realize what was happening. I looked up and saw a very dark baby. My first thought was, "She's African!" Actually, it turns out that premature babies are often bruised at birth, which is why Kaydee's skin was dark all over.

The medical staff whisked her away immediately to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), where she was placed in an incubator. It was strange, but I felt very calm. I didn't know anything about premature babies and I wasn't at all worried. I was so naive, and that really helped. My husband, Anton, told the nurses not to let me see my baby on the first night. I think he knew I would freak out! I touched her for the first time in the morning, about six hours after the birth. She was covered in tubes. We couldn't see her face at all as her eyes were covered to protect her from the purple lights. She had a feeding tube in her mouth, a heart monitor, and oxygen flow and nasal cannula. Despite all this, I looked at her and I thought, "You are gorgeous!" I immediately fell in love with her.

My husband and I had already decided not to give Kaydee formula. We knew we had to give her my milk. Because she had been born early, we missed the antenatal class on breastfeeding. The nurse advised us to give her colostrum. She showed me how to massage my breast and gave me a syringe to collect the colostrum. It took about 40 minutes to collect .03 ounces of colostrum. My husband helped me and we were both very proud to see the trickle of yellow liquid into the syringe. I tried to express colostrum three times a day and the nurses fed it to our baby through a tube into her mouth.

On day three, I was able to go home, but our baby girl stayed in the hospital. I expressed milk every two hours using a double electric pump. I pumped at 6 am then again at 8 am when I arrived at the hospital. I pumped every two hours at the hospital and again when I got home. My home is in Tuen Mun, Hong Kong -- that's an hour journey from the hospital, so it was hard work. My in-laws came to Hong Kong and were very helpful. They managed the house for me and gave me packed lunches to take to hospital.

At the hospital, things started to get better. I was able to express a little less than an ounce in 30 minutes. One day I saw a mother express a huge amount in only 20 minutes. That made me so depressed. She suggested I use a manual pump, and it worked. From then on, I was able to get double the amount. I insisted that Kaydee not be given formula. Out of 12 babies in the NICU, she was the only one who was exclusively breastfed.

We stayed with Kaydee every day. We massaged her, stroked her, sang to her, and told her stories. When she was one week old, the nurses said we could hold her for the first time. I had butterflies in my stomach and my husband cried. It was a beautiful moment. We heard about Kangaroo Care, which is a way of giving a baby maximum skin-to-skin contact in the early days of life. We started doing this on day 16. I took off my shirt and Kaydee was wearing only a nappy (diaper). Then I held her against my chest and wrapped a blanket around her. The nurses allowed us to put a chair in the NICU and my husband and I took turns holding her on our chests. She was still wearing the heart monitor, airflow, and feeding tubes.

On day 20, Kaydee was moved to the special intensive care unit (SICU). The room was smaller and filled with babies. There wasn't even room in there for a comfortable chair as there had been in the NICU. I tried to do Kangaroo Care on an upright plastic chair, but it was very difficult. The nurses were not helpful and one of them got angry with me when I tried to do Kangaroo Care.

On day 22, I put Kaydee to the breast and she made three sucking movements. She was still weak and very small, so the sucking movements were not developed. Also, she was still being fed my milk through a tube into her mouth. The tube was taped to the middle of her mouth, so we asked them to move the tube to one side, which made it easier for her to latch on.

On day 25 she sucked about five times -- good, strong sucks. But there was no space in the SICU for comfortable breastfeeding. The hospital's breastfeeding consultant advised me to give a bottle while Kaydee was in hospital and try breastfeeding once we took our daughter home. My husband and I felt that we were not being given good support by the nurses in the SICU. It was almost impossible to do Kangaroo Care and they were not helping me breastfeed. We made some inquiries and decided to move to a private hospital. Only one hospital, The Matilda Hospital, would accept such a small baby. They sent a station wagon with a portable incubator and a qualified nurse to come and collect us.

When we got to the new hospital, they gave Kaydee a feeding tube again, but this time they put it through her nose, which made it easier to breastfeed. This hospital felt like a holiday farm! We had a private room and the atmosphere was very relaxed. I knew there was medical staff available if I needed them, but they weren't intrusive. I kept telling them, "She doesn't want to suck." Kaydee was tired all the time and trying to suck made her exhausted. But the doctor was very encouraging. He said, "Don't worry. One day she will suck." I put her on the breast every four hours. She sucked until she was tired and then the nurses topped her off with my expressed milk through the tube in her nose.

Day 40 was a big day -- this was the day when Kaydee decided that she would suck. While she was sucking on my breast, the nurse used a syringe to suck the milk out of the stomach via the nasal tube. This way we could see how much milk she was taking. We just knew that finally it was all starting to happen. (Editor's note: There are many ways of measuring how much milk a baby is taking. The method spoken about here is not used often, as it is complicated. In this method, the milk that is removed is then returned to the stomach. Usually less invasive methods, such as test weighing with an electronic scale, are used.) The lactation consultant gave me a lot of encouragement and suggested I try the football hold. That made it easier for Kaydee to latch on. When she was seven weeks old, Kaydee was ready to come home. We bought an electronic scale and saw that she was gaining .75 to 1.5 ounces per day. She also produced many wet nappies and had regular bowel movements. We knew that she was getting enough milk.

When Kaydee turned seven months, we introduced rice cereal mixed with my milk. She gobbled it up! We have just celebrated her first birthday and she is still breastfeeding. I will continue for as long as possible. She's our amazing angel. Breastfeeding has meant a lot to us. Although Kaydee was premature, she was not a sick baby. I believe this is because she was exclusively breastfed. I would like to thank Rochelle from LLL Hong Kong and my husband, Anton, for all the support and encouragement they gave me.

Editor's Note: This story is reprinted from LLL Asia's publication, Close to the Heart, Vol. 7 No. 3.

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