As early as week 24 of her pregnancy, first-time mama Desiree Lubangco-Pineda and her OB-GYN noticed that her breasts were already leaking milk. She took that as a sign that she was meant to breastfeed her baby girl, as long as the doctors would allow. But little did she know that she would have to learn how to breastfeed premature baby.
Even after trying so hard to hold out—she was placed on bed rest since week 7 of her pregnancy—she sadly went into preterm labor. Her baby Ava, a preemie born at 33 weeks, was weighing only 1.88 kg.
“We were able to do unang yakap, but that was quick because she had to be placed inside the incubator immediately since she was born prematurely,” narrates Desiree. “As a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) nurse, I understood the need to hold the feeding of the preterm baby for the first few hours for proper assessment and evaluation.”
This mama also knew how important it was that her baby get her colostrum, the earliest breast milk produced by the mother and contains high levels of protein, salts, fats, and vitamins for complete nutrition. So she wasted no time and immediately pumped her milk the moment she was wheeled into her room and had slightly recovered from the effect of the anesthesia. (What a supermom!)
“Ava had to stay at the NICU while completing her treatment. It was a challenge for me because I experienced overproduction of breast milk supply. I had to religiously pump my milk using my trusted breast pump at home every 1 to 2 hours while my daughter was in the NICU,” she shares.
How to Breastfeed Premature Baby
Without a baby to directly latch on her during the first few days after giving birth, Desiree experienced many breastfeeding challenges. But she soldiered on, fully aware that her breast milk contains all the nourishment needed for her little NICU fighter to survive and recover quickly.
“As a first-time mom, I know that it would be the best gift I could give her. I strongly believe that my breast milk helped her in a lot of ways. Breastfeeding protected my baby from further infection as premature babies are more vulnerable to infections because they need some extra growing to do. Premature babies like Ava also have immature gastrointestinal tracts and they have a hard time digesting and absorbing nutrients. Breast milk provides the perfect nutrition for them as it’s easier to process,” she explains.
She continues, “I was very determined to do everything for her so she would recover fast. Thank God my daughter was well enough given how tiny she was at the time. We were encouraged by her neonatologist to do kangaroo care and direct breastfeeding as soon and as often as possible. I knew in my heart that she’d be discharged soon.”
Back to good health
After a week, the strong mama and her brave baby were reunited. And for the next three years of exclusive breastfeeding, Desiree proudly says Ava has a strong immune system and never got sick. Her happy and healthy girl loved their breastfeeding journey so much that she never learned how to feed from a bottle. “She was directly latching to me during our whole three-year breastfeeding journey. It was tough when I had to do errands and when I had to go back to work. All the breast milk that I expressed was never consumed by my daughter so I had to find a way to donate it before expiration.”
Long before she would be the guardian angel-nurse of babies in the NICU department of a hospital in Laguna, Desiree was already protecting babies—some of them premature—through her donated breast milk.
Words of Encouragement
The medical frontliner advises NICU moms to breastfeed and keep the faith. “Do not get discouraged if you do not have milk yet immediately after giving birth. It is recommended you express often, ideally at least 8 times a day to begin with—including at least once at night—to keep your milk supply up while your baby is still at the NICU. You can collect your breast milk in a small sterile cup or store it in a syringe.”
She adds, “In the first few days, you and your baby will be getting to know each other. It may take time for both of you to get the hang of breastfeeding. In the beginning, it can feel like you’re doing nothing but feeding. Gradually, you and your baby will get into a pattern and the amount of milk you produce will settle down. You just need to have the determination and dedication so you can enjoy your breastfeeding journey with your child. Breastfeeding is so worth it!”