Mexican Domestic Goddess

National Prematurity Awareness Month

Jacqui Skemp6 Comments
I know, I know. It seems like every week or month there's some kind of campaign for awareness of something. This one has been on my mind though as we've got another baby on the way.

Yesterday I bundled up Iggy and myself and we trekked through the snow (in our vehicle) to a rather industrial looking part of town, rode up in an old elevator and walked into the warm and inviting space of Enlightened Mama. Liz, who runs the place, met with me while Iggy made sure he fit in every basket she had. I met Liz through Nell from Whole Parenting Family. I think Iggy was maybe a week old when Nell so sweetly dropped off a big heaping pot of chicken noodle soup and a giant chocolate cake. I had never met her but she came in, sat on my couch and asked me how I was doing. I immediately fell into a messy postpartum puddle of tears. Breastfeeding was not working. It wasn't clicking. And something seemed terribly wrong. Nell sent me Liz's information and we called her up. She had a busy day but stopped by our place for an in-home visit. She was so sweet and kind and really spoke peace to me. She assured me that I was feeding my baby and that's what mattered.

When I was in the first few weeks of pregnancy this go around, a few girlfriends asked me if I was considering giving breastfeeding a chance with this baby. The answer is: absolutely, yes. But I also refuse to torture myself for two months for not being able to exclusively breastfeed. I know the early postpartum days (weeks?) are hard and emotionally messy, but I think I really suffered from beating myself up for not being able to produce enough milk for my tiny baby.

So a few weeks ago I emailed Liz asking if we could chat about what happened last time and what I can do this time around to give myself and this baby a better chance at a good nursing relationship. In the end, after much discussion she said she didn't see any major red flags, and that I could possibly have a successful time nursing the next babe. There were a few factors to consider.

1. Knowledge: I knew that I wanted to breastfeed, so I had just assumed it would work. My mom did it, why couldn't I? I read plenty about pregnancy and the birthing process. So much so I managed to have an unmedicated labor without taking a single birthing class. Though I did have tons of support. But I didn't read a thing about breastfeeding. I knew nothing about milk changing, foremilk, hindmilk, latch, positions, etc. This time around I know pah-lenty. I've read several books. I'm done reading. But I plan on taking a class with Liz.

2. Physiological: So there are potentially some issues here. Hormonal and some physical. Some of it can be treated while some of it is just what I got. I'll be dealing with those things as we get closer to baby's arrival.

3. Baby: Breastfeeding is a two way street. And a lot depends on baby being able to get a good latch and draw out milk to tell mama's body that she needs to make milk, and enough of it.

And this last point brings us back to the preemie thing.

When Iggy was born he looked totally fine! He was just small. Born at 36 weeks and 1 day he missed the cut off for NICU time by a day. He's what is considered a "late term premature baby". There are a few challenges that are unique to these babies:

  • Like other preemies they lack the fully developed sucking reflex. 
  • The don't have all the nice plumpness that full term babies usually have. This is especially important in their cheeks. Chubby cheeks are not just for cute, they help newborns create a good latch and suction to properly draw out milk. 
  • They are so very sleepy. They sleep all the time, more than a full term newborn, and they will sleep through feedings. So you almost always need to wake them up to get feedings going. 
  • Their mouths are tiny, so they really do have a hard time getting a proper latch, so they can't signal to mama's body that she needs to make milk, so her body doesn't and this can lead to supply issues. 
  • They are more prone to jaundice and respiratory issues. 

We were incredibly fortunate to not need NICU time, though I imagine we would have had more breastfeeding support there than we did in the hospital. Iggy also had no issues with jaundice and breathing. 

One thing we didn't really understand fully in those early days were the challenges that having a late term preemie came with. And while I hope that future babies come a bit closer to their due date, I'm glad that we know more now. 

I'll be trying some alternative therapies to prolong this pregnancy, and I have a plan in mind to support a better breastfeeding outcome. But I also know that my toddler is fine. He is not any worse off than any other breastfed child. Formula did not kill him, make him dumber, or make him any less healthy than other children his age. And I'm incredibly grateful that we live in an age where there are more options to aid in the survival of these itty bitty babies who show up to the party early. 

The goals of National Prematurity Awareness Month are to increase the knowledge of the problems of premature infants and to decrees the rate the premature births in the US.