Our Mommy MD Guide’s reply: My son was born at 29 weeks, 3 days. I had been on bed rest for a long time, and then my son was in the NICU for 56 days. It was very hard that the only two things I could really do for my son at that time were to pump breast milk and do kangaroo care. Those were the only ways that I could be useful to him for his first few months of life.
Between the bed rest, c-section, and my son’s prematurity, I had major problems with my milk supply. My son wasn’t able to breastfeed while he was in the NICU, so I pumped eight to ten times a day to get enough milk to feed him through a tube and then eventually by a bottle. After he came home, I was still trying to teach him to breastfeed and also had to pump eight to ten times a day. It was exhausting. I didn’t know how I could keep up that pace when I went back to work, so I called the Lactation Consultant from our NICU. As soon as she sat down with us, he latched like a pro. I still had to pump six to eight times a day to maintain my supply, but breastfeeding made the nights much easier.
On the other hand, the kangaroo care was wonderful. When you are skin-to-skin with your baby, it helps his growth. I was supposed to start a new job, but my employer encouraged me to spend time with my son instead of starting work. I’m so grateful to have had that time with my son. I was in the NICU with my son for 10 to 12 hours each day, and I spent as much of that time holding my son and learning to care for him as I could.
I remember sitting there thinking, This is the one time in my son’s life that I will have to really focus on holding him. I really cherished that time with my son. He’s such a snuggly kid now, and I think it was because he was so used to being held the first few months of his life. He did grow pretty fast, and the nurses were convinced that kangaroo care helped.
Having a premature baby is very isolating. Most people think that bedrest is restful, but it was really one of the most stressful times in my life. I had a few friends who were amazing, but some of my closest friends seemed to disappear while I was on bedrest and after my son arrived. On the other hand, some people I barely knew provided tremendous support. Having a preemie in the middle of winter in Michigan is even more isolating—you aren’t really supposed to take them out in public, and it’s too cold to just get outside for fresh air. I’d pictured being able to take my baby on walks and do things with him, and the reality didn’t match my expectations at all. I felt so lucky to have a healthy baby, but I felt completely alone.
That first year was very hard. It wasn’t post-partum depression, but it felt almost like post-traumatic stress disorder. I’ve talked with other moms of premature babies who felt the same way. Having your baby in the NICU is so hard, and not knowing what is going to happen is so scary. This experience leaves a lasting mark on you.
—Lennox McNeary, MD, a mom of one two-year-old son, a specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation at Carilion Clinic, and a cofounder of the Mommy Doctors Bakery (makers of Milkin’ Cookies), in Roanoke, VA