|Photo credit: Benjamin Earwicker.|
Obviously premature babies have special needs and issues, and often times they are born too young to even have a strong sucking reflex down yet. Not all babies, though, who are in the NICU are premature, and even some that are don't have the same problems other babies do. While obviously the sucking reflex is a common problem among preemies, I can't imagine that it exists with all of them, and I start to wonder, is this a self-fulfilling prophecy? That because it can be a problem, we're just going to go ahead and treat it like it is one?
Popular breastfeeding websites like Kellymom.com and the Best for Babes Foundation both posted this article on their Facebook fan pages, and the response from some mothers was nothing short of heartbreaking. Some of the comments included:
"I was flat out told by a nurse that it's nice to try but don't be afraid to give up - formula is just easier."
"They were very pro-milk, but not pro-breastfeeding. I had no support after."
"I am VERY thankful my preemie was my second breastfed child. If he had been my first I am confident that the hospital would have ruined any efforts to breastfeed...they were supportive (somewhat) of providing breast milk to my baby, but not of my baby breastfeeding. I had to push very hard on the doctors and nurses in the hospital to make it happen."
"My son went for 3-4 hours. I literally told the nurse "you can take him but if anybody gives him formula I will kill them." An hour later, the same nurse said, "His blood sugar was low so I gave him a little formula."This also happened to me with my third child, who was born at term weighing 8 pounds, 7 ounces - nothing huge. The nurse flatly told me, "We gave him formula because his blood sugar was low," and when I shot her a look of surprise, she said, "We don't ask, we just do it." I received no other information whatsoever about my son's condition, nothing - and wondered, What is it about my breast milk that can't solve this problem but formula can? I don't think so.
Much like the schedules and strict feeding routines have been encouraged among term infants, the same exists in the NICU. One mom told how the nurses would only let her put the baby to the breast for short periods, then wanted her to give a bottle so they could see how much he was getting. Like this mother, I remember being almost obsessed about wet and poopy diapers and the length and time of feedings, to the point where it was almost making me crazy. And like her, I had an almost epiphany where I asked myself, What am I doing?! and threw them away, which made the nursing relationship so much easier and more relaxed, for both of us.
In the case of infants who were there but weren't premature, it seems that formula was often still pushed.
"I had some nurses forcing formula if she wasn't finished nursing after ten minutes on each side."
"I'm surprised we didn't have issues establishing a nursing relationship! They constantly 'forgot' to tell me when he was hungry so i could come and breastfeed him (I was recovering from a very traumatic birth) and *sneaked* formula. I was SO MAD."
"My youngest was automatically put in the NICU because he was a vaginal breech delivery. He was born a day short of 41 weeks. He was 9 pounds. They told me they didn't now if they could "allow" me to breastfeed."Many said the same thing: that the idea of breast milk itself was readily accepted, just not breastfeeding. Why? I have to wonder if it's not so much because of 'cultural norms' but because they don't want to see you - and don't want to run the risk of others being offended because of an inability or lack of desire to breastfeed. I've often thought there were serious psychological and control issues when it came to some nurses and breastfed babies. And while most nurses would happily turn over care to the preemie mom, some, I think, almost develop a complex - because they are so engrained and entrenched in the care of these babies that they get defensive of their territory when someone - even the mother - steps in. Our cultural attitudes about public breastfeeding can also spill over into healthcare professionals - the very people who should know the most about it, and facilitate it the most, can also be the same ones to totally undermine and completely destroy that relationship.
I came across this link to a blog post where a nurse overhears a potential NICU job candidate announce, during the interview, "I don't DO breastfeeding." In her post, she mentioned an article posted on the Breastfeeding Moms Unite! blog, "Do nurses learn about breastfeeding in nursing school?" She confirmed our worst fears - that they don't, or at least didn't when she was in school, learn much about either the physiology or the mechanism behind it. As she put it, "The nurses owned the babies back then..." I argue they still often think they do.
Why would someone make a public declaration of this? Especially a person who is responsible for the care of patients who could benefit the most from breast milk? The nurse who overheard the exchange actually felt that this person would be hired, and I can't imagine why. Unless we're praising formula strictly for the sake of convenience, instead of seeing breastfeeding as a public health issue - especially among those most at risk. Her poor attitude could - and probably will - compromise the care of some - maybe all - babies, and I just don't see how anyone could want that person on their staff.
And if you actually question their authority, take charge of your baby and defy their "orders," you just might run into this problem:
"I think the only reason I established a successful nursing relationship, despite NICU nurses who threw away my "extra" expressed milk and gave her formula because the "refrigerator had no space," who scoffed at the "trendy" idea of kangaroo care, who chastised me when I nursed in the open, busy main room in front of her isolette instead of in the curtained-off "family room" that was almost always in use and locked (the hospital social worker actually reported me to CPS for my "public indecency" in the NICU and my "troubling attitude!"), the doctor who insisted on "plumping up" my expressed milk with preemie formula and sent me home with two massive cases of free liquid samples of the nasty stuff, was that I have a hypersensitive bullshit detector and a hyposensitive reaction to the advice of outsiders."More reading:
When should I give my baby formula? regarding hypoglycemia and the newborn
NICU nurse in job interview: I Don't DO breastfeeding"- StorkStories
Gettin' your baby fix on, Similac Style
The nurse's role in promoting or undermining breastfeeding
Anti-breastfeeding NICU - mothering.com post