My Perspective About Breastfeeding, By a NICU Nurse and Mom
Courtney Castillo, RN / October 2022
Courtney Castillo, RN
Courtney Castillo has been a Registered Nurse since 2014 and worked in the NICU setting. She is the proud mom of 4 young children and currently working as an RN at her children’s pediatrician office.
For a new and different blogging perspective, I asked a NICU nurse that had several experiences with breastfeeding all 4 of her own babies, including one who was in the NICU, to write a guest article. As clinicians, not all of us get to be on both sides of the fence - as a nurse in the hospital and as a parent of a baby in the hospital. Courtney has experienced both and she is currently working as a nurse while raising 4 young (and all breastfed!) children. Everyone’s story is unique, but we are proud to recognize common threads and glean inspiration from people like Courtney who share their stories, struggles and successes.
-Kathy Quellen RN, BSN, CBC
Learning All About Breastfeeding, Professionally and Personally
I graduated from Samford University in 2014 and worked as a nurse at a camp that summer while I eagerly awaited marrying my dear husband. After we got married, we moved to Chattanooga, TN, where I began working in a NICU. There, I quickly learned about the value of human milk and also the need for human touch for these tiny miracle babies. The connection that mothers have to their babies – and vice versa – is one of the most beautiful things I have experienced, both as a nurse and personally with my own children. While working in the NICU, I was able to play an active role in helping mothers hold their sick babies for the first time and it always amazed me how the babies with parents who showed up and were involved with their care seemed to thrive at a much faster pace.
I always knew I wanted to try to breastfeed when I had my own babies. However, after working in the NICU and seeing the drastic differences between babies who had human milk and babies who only had formula, I knew I had to make breastfeeding work to help my baby’s transition from the womb to the outside world. Breastfeeding my firstborn was no walk in the park and I felt like I had no idea what I was doing, even after helping hundreds of moms breastfeed while working as a nurse. I took full advantage of the available lactation consultants in the hospital after giving birth and, once I was discharged, my mom helped me a lot during those first few days when I was so exhausted and my nipples were blistered and bleeding. My mom encouraged me so much and I don't know if I would have given up if it wasn't for her encouraging me. It felt like it took an eternity for my milk to come in. In actuality, it was just 5 really long days. My daughter was very dehydrated and didn’t pee for almost 24 hours, so I ended up giving her some formula. I also used my Medela Pump in Style Advanced for the first time and got 2 whole ounces. I was so proud of my body and it gave me so much comfort knowing that all the hard work had paid off and I could continue feeding my baby with my body. I went on nursing my first until she was 12 ½ months old.
My second-born was a lot easier to breastfeed in the beginning, but he developed pretty severe reflux about a month into his life. As a result, I had to eliminate a lot from my diet and had to hold him sitting in an upright position so he could nurse effectively. Eventually he outgrew his reflux and went on to breastfeed until he was about 17 months old.
My third was my easiest and I don't think it had to do anything with my experience with breastfeeding at that point. More so, his personality was that he was a very chill and adaptable baby (praise the Lord because he was born right in the midst of COVID!).
My fourth baby was born almost 4 weeks premature and had some struggles with his blood sugar right after he was born. I have to thank Medela for getting me through those first few weeks as I struggled with expressing milk to keep his sugar up and his jaundice away. I was able to ask for a Harmony, Medela’s manual breast pump, right after his first low sugar reading. The next morning, a lactation consultant set me up with the Symphony Breast Pump. I nursed, then supplemented, and then pumped milk for him every 2 - 3 hours over the course of two weeks. While I was utterly exhausted physically and mentally, I wouldn't trade it for the world. He is 6 months old now and he’s a chunky boy who continues to breastfeed.
Medela Products Supported Each of My Breastfeeding Journeys
I am so thankful for each of my breastfeeding journeys and the challenges I have been able to overcome to provide nutrition for my kids in the first year of their lives. I went back to work after having my second baby, this time in our pediatrician’s office instead of the NICU. I was able to use my breastfeeding knowledge a lot more than I expected as I helped new moms navigate feeding issues while also working as the phone triage nurse for our office.
Still, like so many other mothers, I found it challenging to pump at work. There was not a place where I could have a locked door, so I ended up pumping just once during my lunch break in one of the patient rooms with a chair up against the door so nobody could walk in on me. Of course, this was definitely not an ideal situation but I was thankful I could pump at least once. I used Medela’s Pump in Style for my first 3 babies because I knew the products well and was familiar with them from working in the NICU. Plus, it was always easy to walk into Target and get any extra parts I may have needed.
This time around, I am using the Freestyle Flex with the digital face and I could shout from the rooftops about how amazing it is! I still also use the Harmony manual breast pump because it’s just so easy to tuck in my diaper bag.
Can Clinicians Better Help New Parents Learn About Breastfeeding?
Like many parents, I encountered a lot of healthcare professionals throughout my pregnancy and breastfeeding journeys. After all, breastfeeding – and parenthood! – often takes a village! These are just a handful of those I encountered and my own personal experience with each of these teams:
- The lactation consultants at the hospital were very informative and mostly helpful. It’s sometimes hard when you need help and the lactation consultant isn't going to be on shift until the next day. I wish that they were more available at the hospitals.
- In regards to breastfeeding, the most helpful nurses were my postpartum nurses. For the most part, they would take the time to try helping me and my baby begin to breastfeed. They seemed to really care that I was committed to breastfeeding and they were going to help me be successful.
- The only support I got from my OB as far as breastfeeding was the prescription for a pump; it was not really otherwise talked about except if I wanted to or not so they could chart it in their computer.
- The most support I got after coming home from the hospital was from my mom. I am so thankful that she breastfed me and my siblings when we were babies so that she could be alongside me when I needed help and encouragement. My pediatrician was very also encouraging, but didn’t provide many resources for lactation consultants.
My biggest advice for fellow clinicians would be to regularly and often ask new moms if they need help or have questions about breastfeeding. Sometimes people, especially new mothers, don’t know how to ask or what exactly they should be asking – After all, they’re likely tired and maybe a little overwhelmed!
To new parents, I would advise not to be afraid to reach out for the support you need, especially as you prepare to go back to work. Don’t be embarrassed that you have extra needs now that you’re back in the workforce as a nursing mother. Instead, be proud that you have the opportunity to continue to nourish your baby while advocating for yourself and your needs in your workplace. You got this!