Adele’s NICU breastfeeding journey | Managing a cafe and a preemie
Adele McConnell is a mother and owner of SoulPod Foods, a cafe in Melbourne’s southeast. As September is NICU Awareness Month, we wanted to talk to Adele about how she overcame the struggles of breastfeeding a premature baby in the NICU.
Hi Adele. Can you tell us a little about your breastfeeding journey in the NICU?
Our breastfeeding journey has been really exciting and a big adventure. I gave birth at 31 weeks and ended up having to pump every three hours as well as try and get this little 31 week old to latch. It was an unexpected journey. It was not what I thought it was going to be.
When he was in hospital I was travelling back and forth three times a day, they were hour-long trips and I had just opened up my cafe the day before he was born! So I would come into the cafe, I would prep, I would pump, I would go to the hospital with my milk.
In the hospital, they would feed him through his tube and then when he was a little bit older, through the tiny little bottles. He would feed and then I would come back to the cafe. As he got older and older, we realised, OK he can latch!
I started just putting him straight on the boob and then doing top up breastmilk. He had had no problem with latching, he's had no problem with ever drinking to his heart’s content. When he was really, really small we were using nipple shields because his mouth was so tiny.
One thing that I will never forget that was said to me was, when a mother gives birth it's not just to a newborn, she's becoming a newborn herself.
He grew so quickly at such a rate that he just needed more and more. I had stopped expressing and I just let him go hell for leather on the boob. Some feeds were an hour long and it was really tiring and I pushed through solidly to six months and then obviously he started eating so that took the pressure off me exclusively feeding for a while and then I realised he actually still wants that comfort.
What would you say helped get you through those difficult early days?
For me it was perseverance and just trying to work out what was going to work best for us. I believe that you can look externally for answers but for me it was about listening to my body and seeing what my body was capable of.
Having a preemie baby has blown my mind. Because it's something that I never thought I'd be dealing with. He loves boob. He's just so happy, so full of life.
Have you felt comfortable to breastfeed in public if you wanted to?
I have never had any nasty looks, or derogatory comments, however I know so many women have and it did make me a little bit anxious at the start, so I would have swaddles covering me up, and now it’s gotten to the point where I’m like, “I’m feeding my child. I’ve got no option he is going to eat whether or not you like it and this is what he is eating!”
At the cafe I was really adamant that we needed to have women feel comfortable to actually breastfeed in public and wanted to create a safe space for women.