The NICU - neonatal intensive care unit, is not something I even gave a thought to when I was pregnant with my first baby.
I had a fairly easy pregnancy and no issues other than a low placenta which did cause a bit of worry, but completely moved by the time I was to give birth.
My baby was not premature, and in fact I was a few days overdue when my water broke.
Since it was my first baby I kind of freaked out when my water broke and called my OB right away. She told me to come get it checked out at the labor and delivery department of my hospital, and at that point my laboring journey started.
Once I went into triage and was induced (due to my water breaking) I ended up with an epidural, and had a routine labor and delivery with a little bit of oxygen supplementation while laboring.
Despite the low placenta during pregnancy and the oxygen during labor I was thrilled to deliver a healthy full term baby girl. My first baby. She weighed over 7 pounds.
Right after delivery the doctors did have to use suction for a little meconium she was sputtering and coughing over. But within seconds she seemed fine, and I was holding my baby and wondering when I could breastfeed her.
I will admit now, I didn't know as much about breastfeeding back then. It was 2012 and believe it or not things have changed a lot between the time I had her and even my third baby in 2016.
When my third baby was born I had chest to chest immediately and breastfed within an hour of birth.
When my first baby was born the nurses told me no rush to feed her, ordered food for me, and while I was holding my daughter the whole time we didn't even attempt to breastfeed.
Since I had never breastfed I figured I would feed her when the nurses told me she needed to eat. My motherly instincts had really not kicked in, I can see that looking back.
We eventually tried breastfeeding at some point hours later I believe. At that point I don't think she was getting anything from me, not even colostrum.
I then had the nurses take her to the nursery to bathe her and let me get some sleep! I have to laugh or cry now because I did not let my second baby or my third leave my side in the hospital.
But being my first baby, again I thought this was totally normal (and it was) and had them take my baby away so I can rest.
My baby had a choking episode while in the nursery
In the middle of the night the first night after she had been born, the nurses woke me up to tell my my baby was choking and had been taken to the NICU.
I was so confused since I had left them with a healthy baby I thought.
They rushed us to the NICU to see her and she was hooked up to all the tubes and machines. I don't even know what they were all doing.
They had also started feeding her formula and breastfeeding was no concern to the doctors and nurses working in the NICU.
Visiting the NICU
At this point I was no longer with my baby. We had our hospital room and my baby was in the NICU in a room there.
There was nowhere to sleep, or much room for our things so we now would spend the next few days traveling back and forth. We would have to call in and be accepted to the NICU and we would have to scrub our hands before seeing her.
My parents came at some point and it was the same deal for them. We could only sort of awkwardly hold her with the way she was hooked up.
This is where things got kind of weird for me. I had just given birth and was now without my baby. I thought I had a healthy full term baby but she was in the NICU.
The doctors were really not giving me much information at all. I had missed whatever happened to her, and even though she appeared fine she was hooked up to tons of tubes to make sure she was breathing okay and all her other vitals were okay.
They would not give us a timeline on how long she would be there or what they were even watching for. Looking back it seems they wanted to make sure she would do well on her own breathing without any further choking issues, and this required time and observation.
Of course, I wanted to know what was wrong and when we could all go home together.
Breastfeeding in the NICU
I don't know how breastfeeding would have gone for us if she had not been in the NICU or if I had never sent her to the nursery the first night.
Breastfeeding in the NICU was not easy though. I could not get comfortable with my baby hooked up to a ton of machines and wires everywhere. She would not latch at all. It was not looking great for breastfeeding and I welcomed giving her formula. The nurses were feeding her formula and I was too.
With a small hope that I would still be able to breastfeed I met with a lactation consultant from the hospital who got me pumping with a hospital grade breast pump.
I am going to be honest, I hated pumping on that thing! I was exhausted and I was going back and forth the NICU, trying to breastfeed my baby, giving her formula bottles, and then going back to my room and trying to pump. I say trying because nothing was coming out at all.
The good news is that after a few days of this they deemed my baby healthy enough to leave. She never had further choking or breathing issues after a time of observation. The original issues were probably due to ingesting meconium during delivery.
I was sent home with my hospital grade breast pump, a nipple shield and formula to continue trying to feed her however I could.
We did give formula in those early days but within a week of round the clock pumping and lactation consultant help, I started to produce milk and was able to go on to breastfeed very successfully.
I felt like I had been left out of something or missed out on bonding
The whole experience of having a full term baby in the NICU was a strange one for me. While I was in it I wasn't analyzing it but afterwards I felt like I missed out on the traditional after birth experience with my baby.
I felt sad that people had not been able to visit her normally. I felt sad looking at my hospital room with balloons and flowers from my parents but no baby.
The whole experience left me feeling empty. I also felt like I missed out on a lot of initial bonding and breastfeeding.
When I came home with her everything felt so strange. She was my first baby and I love her with all my heart. She has been totally healthy since this but it's still a strange and unnerving experience to have a baby in the NICU whatever the reason.