Breastfeeding a Premature Baby is a Whole New Experience… it’s an Emotional but Rewarding Time

“Breastfeeding looks different to us prem-mummies… it’s an emotional but rewarding time.”- Nadine’s NICU journey

My name is Nadine Muller. I’m 30 years of age and I wear a number of hats.

I’m in the Australian military – in the Royal Australian Air Force, specifically, where I’ve served for the past 12 years. I’m a Registered Emergency Nurse with the RAAF and I am very proud of the incredible experiences and exposures (and challenges and personal growth) the military has provided to me...

I'm also a businesswoman; I am the director of my own online coaching and mentoring business in health, fitness, mindset and nutrition. I also do my own personal branding through social media in the motherhood, lifestyle, health and fitness realm.

Currently, I’m concentrating on being a stay-at-home mummy, while I enjoy a year off on maternity leave from the military. I’m a devoted wife to my husband Dane who is a Registered Builder and Project Manager. He also lives and breathes a life of health and fitness.

But I guess my best (and hardest and most rewarding!) job of all is being a proud mum to my two beautiful boys – Madden who is three years old and Beckham, our prem newborn who is just five weeks old.

My Crazy House is Filled to the Brim with Love and Laughter

My heart is becoming fuller by the day and I wouldn't have it any other way!

My three boys are my biggest supporters. They are my shining light and my unwavering compass that lead the way for me!

More recently, our family welcomed Baby Beckham, unexpectedly, six weeks prematurely, after I experienced P-PROM (Preterm Premature Rupture of Membranes).

“It’s too soon.” Three words. That’s all I could string together as I stared in shock at the puddle of amniotic fluid in my bed. It was too soon for my baby to arrive; I was only 33 weeks.

My Heart Shuddered at the Thought of What Was to Come

Welcoming a baby earlier than expected is overwhelming, to say the least. But after the initial shock wore off, we strapped in and prepared for the road ahead.

Rushing to my birthing hospital (thankfully, we managed to hold off on spontaneous labour), we managed to hold on for another five days.

Every day was a blessing for our baby’s growth and overall development. Likewise, the extra time let the steroids kick in for his lung development and the antibiotics do their work to protect him from infection.

On day 5 post P-PROM, we welcomed our miracle baby Beckham Jude via a true Category 1 Emergency C-Section. After quite the quick, scary and traumatic entrance, he thankfully was earthside – safely. Day 1 in the Special Care Nursery was about to begin.

I Felt Like I Was Walking Into the Unknown

Knowing how difficult it can be to establish breastfeeding the first time, I had grave fears for how tough it was going to be while we navigated through the rocky shores of life with a prem and in the special care nursery.

I knew it would be hard work on my part, not to mention on our tiny but mighty Baby Beckham’s part… but, I was willing to do whatever it took to give us both the best possible chance to establish and maintain our breastfeeding journey together.

Now that we are home, I see that the uphill battle was so worth it. We are now exclusively breastfeeding and, while we faced some challenges, we overcame them together. It was worth every drop of blood, sweat and tears!

I’m so proud of us both! We can’t thank Medela enough for being pivotal in our journey!

A Bitter-Sweet Homecoming

Oh my! Did I underestimate the internal warfare and harrowing that came when I was discharged from hospital leaving my newborn baby behind?

I knew that it was the best and safest place for him to be, but, ultimately, it felt so wrong and so unnatural to leave him there. My heart literally broke.

I don’t think anyone could mentally prepare for this moment. I’m a resilient person. I’ve seen and experienced a lot personally and professionally, but, this truly blindsided me.

It was incredibly tough to walk out of the hospital that day. We didn’t look like new parents. I saw others joyfully carrying their car capsules with their precious bundles, ready to start their new and exciting lives. We, on the other hand, carried our suitcases, breast pump and full but heavy hearts.

Leaving him that day was one of the hardest, most heart-wrenching of moments of my life. Walking out of the special care nursery, maternity ward, hospital corridors, car park, further and further away from his tiny body and, finally, getting physically into our car – was truly heart numbing.

I got in the car. Then, I got out and opened the back door (even though I said I wouldn’t) only to see that empty newborn capsule – shudder.

My advice to any mum that has to experience something like this is to acknowledge it and feel through the emotions. It’s important to have these times with a heavy heart. Let your emotions land and have your moments… because there will no doubt be plenty more. Then, pick yourself back up, dust yourself off and carry on.

Like many mothers before you, with you and after you, visiting their babies in the hospital, around the clock, every day takes you one step closer to bringing your baby home once and for all.

A Completely Different Breastfeeding Experience

With my eldest son, Madden, I was a proud breastfeeding mama and what a beautiful journey we had together. I truly believe our bond today was based upon the wonderful connection we had formed from breastfeeding.

With him, I used the Medela symphony pump in the hospital, while I established my milk supply. Like most 1st time mamas, it was a tough first few days and weeks, but, after seeking support from my health care team and lactation consultants, we finally got the knack of it and there began our 2.5-year breastfeeding bond.

Once I left the hospital, I used the Medela Swing Maxi Double Electric pump, particularly so that my hubby could also help out with night feeds to get me through the sleepless nights.

It also helped as I made my return back to work in the Emergency Department and while Madden was enrolled in day-care. Without Medela, our long and beautiful journey simply wouldn’t have been the same.

This time around with Beckham, our breastfeeding journey was obviously very different. Any special care nursery, NICU or prem mama knows just how hard breastfeeding is with the added challenge of having your baby admitted in the hospital for several weeks or months.

Pumping becomes an around the clock duty with every single drop of breast milk being vital to your baby’s growth and development. The importance of expressing to establish and maintain your milk supply is utmost since SCN/NICU babies may not be nursing at all or unable to nurse for long periods.

Breastfeeding looks different to us prem-mummies. Quite often, you are expressing to put your milk down your baby’s nasogastric feeding tube.

Our baby Beckham would tire very quickly on the breast, so, breastfeeding, in the beginning, was through tube feeds!

I was a pumping madwoman, literally pumping around the clock, bringing in my Medela bottles in my Medela travel bag esky to sign into the nursery for his tube feeds. Every drop of breastmilk counted, just like every increasing gram in weight was a win!

With Team Medela and the Freestyle pump and accessories, I had the instrumental support I needed to ensure that I was doing my best to nutritionally support my baby through this tough, emotional, but rewarding time.

Having used the Symphony in the hospital for both boys, I knew that it was and is an incredible machine. I found it comfortable to use and it worked incredibly well for me. I was able to pump to establish, maintain and boost my breast milk supply for my little one, particularly when he was unable to feed at all. This helped me to maintain my supply in those early, critical days when my breast milk supply being established.

Although he was being fed through a nasogastric tube, he was able to have breast milk, giving his tiny body the best possible start. Without the hospital-grade strength that the Symphony provided, our breastfeeding journey in the hospital would have been different and certainly more challenging.

In Some Ways, Being a Mother is Like Being a Nurse

Being a nurse has definitely shaped my views on motherhood and breastfeeding. I truly believe there are many transferrable skills that are innately found in both mothers and nurses.

Being a nurse, like being a mother requires patience, sacrifice, resilience, dedication and empathy - the list really does go on. The skills learned over years of being a nurse are so worthwhile when it comes to parenting.

While becoming a mother and stepping into my new role was still a steep learning curve, I found that having my nursing background set me in good stead for mothering and breastfeeding.

Knowledge truly is power and that foundation, combined with trusting my own gut and motherly instincts and willingness to seek support early and when needed, has given me confidence throughout my journey.

I think that any mother will agree with me that the first days and weeks breastfeeding a newborn, be it the first or second time, can be tough. I’ve experienced two very different journeys myself, based on two very different circumstances.

It doesn’t matter whether your baby takes to the breast like a professional, straight up, or needs a little bit of extra help because of a special care nursery or NICU stay. Either way, it’s a beautifully exhausting, emotional process that takes time.

How would you describe your breastfeeding journey? Have you or anyone that you know had to deal with the challenges that come with having a baby arrive early? What did you learn from the experience? Where did you go for breastfeeding support? Let’s have a chat and support each other, here and on the Medela Australia Facebook page.