Interview with Christine Cato: NICU Veteran

Last week, we wrote about the forthcoming Three Rivers Milk Bank, which will supply breastmilk to NICUs throughout the region. Today, I spoke with Christine Cato, who had two premies. She offers some insight to what it’s like with a baby in the NICU:

Can you tell us about your experience with your older son, Devlin, in the NICU?P1010514_1

Devlin was born in 2006. I was in the hospital for a month knowing I could give birth at any time–this was from when I was 25 weeks pregnant. I never even got a baby belly! Devlin came 11 weeks early and had good Apgar scores. He weighed 3 pounds, 2 ounces. I got to see him really quickly and then he was whisked to the NICU. He was hooked up to pretty much every machine there was. The problem was just that he wasn’t done cooking yet! He couldn’t eat or breathe on his own, so he was tube-fed, intubated, hooked up to a CPAP machine for awhile.

When did you and Mark get to see him?

It took about 4 hours until he was stable enough for us to see him. At some point, I started asking for a breast pump. I was surprised I had to ask, but I did. Nobody brought it up to me, but pumping was front and center in my mind. Here was something I could do, you know? At that time, they only had one LC on duty at a time at the hospital.

I eventually met with Bob (the lactation consultant), and it turns out he’s related somehow to my husband. I was thinking, “This family reunion is great and all, but can we talk about my milk?” Ha!

What was his recommendation for pumping?mom with baby

I think I was following a pretty typical schedule for premie moms. I pumped every 90 minutes during the day and every 2 hours at night. I wanted to make sure it worked, so I went balls out and did exactly what the LCs suggested. It worked really well for me. At first, I just had tiny amounts of colostrum, but soon enough I filled an entire chest freezer at home. By the time Devlin left the NICU at 5 weeks, I was pumping 6 ounces every 3 hours.

I used a hospital grade pump while I was staying there and actually rented that to use at home because it was so much better than my double electric! I had tons of parts (flanges, tubes, etc.), too, so that I only needed to wash parts once a day.

I know that currently, the NICUs in our area are using formula rather than supplementing with donor milk. What was it like bringing the expressed milk for your son?

I don’t want to say they weren’t supportive, but there really weren’t that many people pumping for their babies. Out of 20 babies in the NICU, maybe 4 of the moms were pumping. So it was always sort of like, “Ok, what are they going to actually do with that milk?” I’d hand them my tiny baggies anyway!

chest freezer with breastmilk

The thing is that when you’re sitting in the hospital and you give birth to a premie and you are freaking out, they don’t want to give you the hard line about pumping. But they could have done more of a sell than they did. I learned to fight for things a little bit, to be direct, and to ask questions.

I know you didn’t stay at the hospital for 9 weeks while Devlin was admitted. What was it like to go home without your baby?

It wasn’t like I had an experience to compare it to.

I spent a month in the hospital knowing that if I came home with a baby at all, that was a pretty good thing.

From my perspective, I felt, “Hey! My baby is gonna come home eventually!”

I would get up in the morning, spend the whole day at the hospital, and then go home to sleep at night (waking up to pump, of course). While I was at the hospital, I got to use a lactation room while Devlin was in the NICU, but once he was in his own room at 5 weeks, I’d just pump next to his bed. People came in and out, but I just didn’t care at that point. I was doing my job, they were doing their job. This guy’s job might be to clean that sink, but my job is to sit here and pump this milk for my baby. People saw a lot of things.

When did Devlin get to nurse from you directly?

We tried to get him to latch when he was about a month old, and he did a little bit. It was a really long transition to get him to nurse completely on his own. He never took a bottle well, so I sort of liked it when he was still on the feeding tube because I wanted to avoid nipple confusion. Of course, it’s not the best thing for a baby to stay on a tube!

But he did a lot better nursing than he ever did with a bottle. He’d turn blue and stop breathing–we had a hard time finding the right flow from an artificial nipple. He was only ever given a little bit of formula when he developed severe reflux. We tried thickening my breastmilk with cereal, but breastmilk just eats right through rice cereal. It never thickened.

Eventually he transitioned just fine and he nursed until right before he turned 3!

baby nursing

Early attempts at nursing Devlin

So then your younger son was a premie, too?

Right. Lucien was only 5 weeks early and he weighed 5 pounds, 5 ounces. I knew the drill by then. I actually let myself sleep a little bit more with him–only woke up to pump every 3 hours. He was able to nurse from me right away and I even got to hold him a little bit before he went to the NICU. Like before, I went to the hospital all day and went home to sleep at night.

It was so much easier with Lucien! He latched right away and was just so much bigger!

What do you have to say to other NICU parents?

It can be really hard for parents to bond with their babies while they are in the NICU. I felt like pumping was the only thing I could do. Decisions were being made for me because there would be only one option. But here was pumping–I could do this thing! It gave me something to focus on with a guaranteed positive outcome for my kid. Pumping can only help.

In the midst of so much uncertainty, pumping can give you something to do.

Also, I’d tell them their little three-pounders will grow up and they go crazy!! And, even 7 years later, I still sort of think of my son (well, really both sons) in terms of his gestational age rather than his actual birthday.


Did your child have a stay in the NICU? Leave us a comment to share your experience. 

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>

CommentLuv badge