I didn't find any breastfeeding help posts which mentioned the problem Baby Tess had developed in the NICU- so I'll spell it out here. I had a kid who was breastfeeding normally at home, until she got sick. Each time I got her back on the breast, there would be a medical emergency which kept her from eating normally for a few days to a few weeks.
The last hospitalization really set my Tess over the edge. I had a "eating normally" kid, who suddenly was forced to fast for 15 HOURS. (During Tessy's heart problem episode no doctors wanted to okay bottle feeding until they were sure Baby Tess won't need emergency heart surgery for arrhythmia. God Bless Doctor K who finally said, "give that baby some food, her heartbeat rhythm is fine).
When I got my Baby home, breastfeeding was awful. My kid would wake herself up from a deep sleep- screaming for food. She wasn't interested in the breast. My baby wanted her food NOW --breastmilk from a bottle.
I didn't realize at the time how stressed out my kid was after her NICU stay. In the NICU, you feed on a regular schedule. The nurse doesn't look at you carefully each time you stick out your adorable little tongue and see if you "might" be extra hungry. Because my kid was one of the healthier babies in the NICU, she basically got ignored towards the end. We understand why a healthy Baby Tess got overlooked by her NICU nurse sometimes for the desperately ill baby next door. The downside, however, is that Baby Tess come home thinking that the only way she could summon food was to scream loudly for it.
I also hadn't realized how extremely stressed out I was after the NICU experience. Breastfeeding suddenly had an extra emotional take to it. My "failure" to reintroduce breastfeeding seemed like one more way that Baby Tess had her happy babymoon taken from her due to illness.
What really helped me was to break a bunch of La Leche rules. We ran out of "extra" frozen breastmilk within the first few days at home. For a week, I pumped before each and every feeding and fed Tess fresh breast milk I hated it. Pumping milk with a baby screaming for food was miserable. I introduced formula to Baby Tess to supplement the pure breastmilk bottle feedings. I still pumped as much as I could. Having my husband feed Tess a few bottles of formula a day, however, really took the edge of my pumping stress.
Mentally, I had to cross the line that we might not get breastfeeding back and that was okay. I stopped defining our lack of breastfeeding as a post-NICU failure. Instead, I reframed it as a "success." It was success that I could pump for a full month while my baby girl couldn't eat in the NICU. It was a success that my baby had breastmilk to eat after her abdominal surgery.
I started taking our breastfeeding journey one day at a time. "Today I fed Tess X number of breastmilk bottles." Each extra day of breastfeeding was a big success.
Sometime between week 2 and week 3 post-NICU, Baby Tess started feeling relaxed enough to breastfeed from the source instead of the bottle. My little "easy latch" system helped her immensely. If she could eat immediately, instead of fumble for a good latch, she was much happier.
I followed my lactation consultants recommendation to let a big 1 month old girl feed like a little newborn. Baby Tess got to eat solely from her favorite side. I tolerated really bad latches without making her "redo" them. Suddenly, my kid just 'got it.' She now prefers to eat the normal way, without the nipple shield.
Thank you for your prayers! My new slogan for breastfeeding and life in general is "Pure patience alone will get you 80% towards your goal."