Monday, July 30, 2012

as per your request...

THANK YOU ALL FOR sharing the last three months with us!  Your love, support and prayers have been the foundation for our strength, as we have patiently watched our sweet little baby's daily miracles in the NICU.  Miss Vivi Boom- Boom has shown us just how much of a valiant little warrior she is, growing bigger and stronger before our eyes, demonstrating a strength that can only come from the universe of love surrounds her! 

We have had many requests of “what do you guys still need?”  My answer:  LOVE & PRAYERS OVER THE NEXT 5 YEARS!  Maybe a sponsorship for Team Boom- Boom in September for the NICU’s Mini/ Half Marathon?! (We will discuss later with further details...)  

And baby stuff!  OMG we didn’t shop for Baby over the last three months… So as per your requests, I have adjusted our long forgotten Baby Registry.  Fortunately we won’t need any special “preemie equipment” other than a few packages of preemie diapers that will certainly be outgrown any day now…

So here is the adjusted list!     

Http:// and search for Jacqui and Victor Castro in Ossining, NY!  We should pop right up!     

We would love photos of you!  Victor and I have received dozens of email from so many people, relating to our struggles with Valentina's premature birth.  So many people have shared our story with their family and friends, and we have received messages from people we haven't even met!  So many wonderful people have sent us such powerful messages and their own stories that we would love to take up a collection of sorts.

As a tribute to you all for your support, prayer groups, positive energy sent out into the universe, please, send us a photo of you holding a sign that says *grow baby grow* for Valentina's baby book!  Send a postcard!  Send an email!  Send Valentina a letter for her 18th birthday!  (IE "do you even know what your parents went through?!!)  We are so grateful that Valentina has come so far, please help us collect pieces of YOU to preserve our miraculous journey home.    

If you don't know my parents address in the US, head over to my Facebook page for both US and Portuguese addresses... 

Or email Grandma Patti  


happy due date!

happy due date vivi boom-boom!!  today is our due date... 40 weeks!  we were only about 12 weeks early to the party.... we have spent 80 days in the NICU and today is a day to celebrate!  as of 7 p.m., baby finished ALL of her bottles without assistance from her feeding tube!!  which means we are just two more bottles tonight shy of discharge papers!  baby is incredible!  i am running around trying to do a zillion things at once to get every thing ready.... we are headed home any day now!!

as of yesterday's bath time, valentina lee castro is 5 lbs 4 oz -- 2384 grams!  i have a ton of things to say and post about, but i have NO time right now... SO EXCITED!  SO PANICKED?!!!

she smiles when i touch her face and say "mama's here!"

daddy's shining star

i can hold my binky all by myself! 

another baba finished!
two more to go until we get discharge papers!

so sweet...

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Saturday 28 July 2012

2384 grams... 5 lbs 4 oz!! I gave Valentina a nice bath this afternoon, and while I am scared out if my mind that my little wiggly slippery baby will escape my grasp, she certainly loves it, thoroughly enjoying her naked time! I am so nervous that i had Nurse Fatima stand next to me and talk me through it... Eee!!!

Right now, our biggest obstacle is finishing our bottles... We get so sleepy! When I first got to the hospital this afternoon, baby was so beautifully sleeping, oh oh oh she is such a tiny little love!! I spent the morning making baked zitti (to have premade dinner!) and started going through all my clothes... I'll be posting some before and after photos of our bedroom/ nursery, and included is my epic closet that my wonderful amazing brilliant husband put together for me (us..$. Now I just have to go through the 4 laundry baskets of clothes in Victor's office , two bins in the hallway and half- closet on Bianca's room.. And then I can start washing all the Baby's stuff that is new and waiting to be properly organized!! She is coming home any day now and I'd love to have everything ready... At least that's the plan.... I have so many errands to run still and of course, no time to spare... And don't forget, every three hours I have to stop and drop everything to pump breast milk... I can't wait to have Valentina home.. Then I'll have a damn good reason to have to rush to the couch and swoon!!

My mama will be here Tuesday morning so Vivi better be headed home Wednesday !!! We need snuggles!!

Here is a little chubby faced baby, who would rather snooze on mama than finish her baba...

Friday, July 27, 2012

27 July

Valentina is awesome. I'm starting to get into the routine with her, her cries, her moods, and playing with her!!! I love her smell her smile her cries! I am so whipped!!! Right now it's post-bottle nap time, and she would rather be awake and be held.... Ok baby! That's fine!! You were strong for mama for 9 weeks in an incubator... Your wish is my command....

(20 minutes later)

I am disciplining myself, Vivi is in her crib and I am packing up to sit in Lisbon traffic.... Wish me luck...

And here are a few photos of our mini- chunky- monkey!!!


Thursday, July 26, 2012

25 July

Just a quickie update for now, I have MUCH to say, but I am due for another nursing attempt in 10 minutes.. But Miss Vivi Lee Boom- Boom is now a whopping 2234 grams.. 4 lbs 14 oz!!! Holy big giant baby!!!! We are more and more successful bottle feeding and at this stage, she loooves being near my breast, licks, squeezes, latches on, gives a few strong SUCKS, and then smiles and falls asleep. I am a giant pacifier. We are working on it... Sigh.. I think once we are home and are having more snuggle time, more skin to skin kangaroo snuggles and less rigid schedule of the NICU, we will be successful with nursing.. But until then... 

Vic and I are making the mad dash for the last home preparations for Baby, I am totally terrified of reality that is about to hit.... We Have A Baby!!! NOW WHAT??!!! We will be getting discharged pretty much any day now, but first we need to successfully eat via baba or booby for a full 24 hours without getting tired and needing to finish a bottle via feeding tube.  We are so close. . . 

Baby had her eyes dilated and then checked... You know those creepy eyelid opener thing from Clockwork Orange?  Looking at the picture now.. it really wasn't that bad... but as a Mama, it seemed that way... Little baby screamed and cried BUT!!!  Baby's eyes were cleared of ROP!!!  She has passed another hurdle... And she is perfect... her big eyes are perfect... SUCH a huge relief.... something Vic and I were definitely stressing about.  The little bug will most likely need glasses one day, but that was very likely even before she was conceived..  Ha!!  And I think last night she was to have her ears checked.  More results on that later.. but I feel that she will be just fine... Oh sweet little baby....

mini- chunky monkey <3
still workin' on that coco...  
good job daddy!

sleeping sweetly...
this photo was taken during bottle time...
*sigh*  still working on the schedule..

Oh oh oh, *grow. baby. grow.*

Friday, July 20, 2012

friday 20 july 2012

It's been a few days since my last post...  and admittedly, I've posted a few updates on Facebook but not here on the blog... So my apologies...  I've been so exhausted that I just didn't have the strength... HAHha.  There are several things I've been meaning to post, but hopefully I will get to do so this weekend...  Ahhh...

I've had the painter fixing our walls in the bedroom/ nursery all week... Which means with my pumping schedule, I am in bed at 1:30 AM, up at 6, pump, get Bianca ready for camp, shower, put her on the bus, painter arrives, wait until my mother-in-law arrives, I leave to sit in Lisbon traffic, then  RUN to hospital, say a quick hello to baby (as now it is 9:45 and I am 15 minutes late to feed her, so the nurses do it, then I have to pump, then I sit with baby until about 1 pm (she usually sleeps really well during this time, so I dont get snuggles... ) then either I feed her at 12:30 pm, MAYBE get to change her diaper (it is unwise to change a Vivi diaper immediately post-feeding....  OOohhhh noooooo) THEN I haul ass BACK to the south side, sit in MORE traffic for the Lisbon bridge. (People take their lunch hour to go to the beach...  I get hit with traffic TO and FROM.... UHGHHHHHH).  THEN I make it home, Alda leaves for work, painter returns from lunch, I have lunch and pump, and the last few days I've just laid on the couch and tried to nap.  NO brain power to blog, just internet surf/ tv...  The painter leaves at 5, I have to pump at 5:30, THEN I have to go pick up Bia at 6, and then I end up having to drive either BACK to Almada to Leroy Merlin to buy paint/ other painting supplies... As of course, once you START painting a room with one kind of paint, you have to finish with it... So every day this week I have had an extra hour and a half of driving and shopping.  (Not the fun kind of shopping either.)  THEN its bath for Bia, make dinner, pump, water the flowers, pay attention to Zulu, laundry, tidy up, anything else I forgot, Bia goes to bed, I zonk out on the couch until about 12:30 - 1:30 AM, as its better to stay awake for that pumping hour, as I am so tired I just can't force myself to get up.  Oh, and I am sleeping on the couch in Vic's office, as my bedroom is under plastic wrap for the painter...  

 I miss my  husband who is away for hopefully the last time for awhile...  because... the BIG DAY is coming up really really soon.....  VALENTINA. <3

So the latest news with our sweet little Petunia....  Baby is now over 2 kilos!!!!  Two days ago, we hit 2018 grams, thats 4 lbs 7 oz!!!!  Oh sweet baby!!!  She is almost REAL BABY SIZE!!  HAHah!!  She still seems so small to me and I keep asking if her size is ok, is she almost at a normal (healthy) birthweight for a full term baby... And I know there are no real answers to this line of questioning, every baby is different, as long as everything is developed fully, etc...  I guess I just want some reassurance when there is no guarantee with anything....  It is a hell of a way to perceive your child, but I am trying to stay positive.  I truly believe that everything with Vivi is just fine, will continue to be just perfect, that she will grow into a big fat healthy perfect baby, and have a happy healthy childhood and wonderful great life.  But that doubt and fear and trauma! creep around in the back of my head, tugging at my heart strings.  It's strange now, how I call the NICU three times a day, now that she is stable, and pretty darn close to being  a "normal" baby.  In the beginning when things were still really scary, I would have Victor call in the middle of the night when I was up pumping at 2, 3 AM.  And I knew it would be fine then, as she was so fragile and safe in her incubator where nurses would jump and run to see she was ok if her alarms rang.  Now that the end of our NICU stay is just around the corner, I am up all night worrying, and even when I do call, and the simple answer is, "Mom, your baby is fine, she ate, pooped and is sleeping," I still can't sleep because I am worried she is lonely.  Maybe I am just lonely for her?  HMmmmmm psychoanalyze yourself Jax.... Maybe that's it.... I WANT MY BABY!

This morning, I am home.  The painter is finishing hopefully today......................... sigh................... ugh.................... still waiting.......................... and I was crying at 6:30 AM as I know that baby doesn't have enough milk until I can get there this afternoon.  I don't know how that is possible, but somehow it is...  and I am crying over breastmilk.  Valentina will no doubt enjoy the preemie formula she will be served, it just upsets me that I am not there for her, doing the one thing I can do without medical intervention.  Well, sorta... she still has her feeding tube, but that's only because she gets sleepy after chowing down her first 15 ml of milk.  Baby is now eating 8 x 37 ml a day!  And with all of my pumping efforts, I average about 450 ml a day!  This is still considered low milk output (is that such a thing?  HAhaha) but for us, for now, it is great!  And I have about three big Ziplock bags in the freezer FILLED with milk.... Last I checked, I had saved over 36 ounces, which if you think too much about, that's kinda gross... BUT I probably have more... as I have had a few days where I actually pumped exactly 500 ml of milk.  That is awesome!  I am now obsessing over how to make sure baby has a proper latch.....  More obsessive tangents on this in the future....

Yesterday on Facebook, I posted a quick status update... Baby had her first successful breastfeeding session!  Well...  all things considered... I sat down, snuggled her across my belly and she latched on within a few seconds and gave a huge SUCK!  It was wild!  I can't help but laugh when she's chompin' away, even if it is more of a comfort suck... It is so surreal to me!  We are learning together and I feel really good about our budding nursing relationship.  She successfully consumed 5 ml of milk (Nurse Rute used that handy feeding tube (that works for both in and out) and sucked out the contents of her tummy, 5 ml, and then pumped it back in. HAhah).  THEN she sucked out the air from her belly, which means no worries about having to burp baby, did she burp, was that a burp, is that a cough or a choke, NURSE! please don't walk too far away, baby is eating! She could burp and choke!  I'm not ready for this yet!!!!!  I am absolutely terrified for the inevitable day where I will have to flip baby and do the baby Heimlich... 

So that is it!  We are up to date!  Baby is about a week or two away from coming home from the hospital!  I can't believe it!! There is still so much to do before the house is ready!  So much to BUY!  OMG!!!  My mama will be here July 30th, so whatever isn't finished by then. . .  I can't even think about that right now. . .

Cupcake Mama, over & out.
I may have already posted this one... But I am WILD for her! <3

Ditto.  I just love that face!! 

This was last Friday when Daddy surprised us at the hospital! 

Here she looks like Victor...

And I swear that there is a photo of me as a baby that could be interchangeable with this one of Vivi.

BRRR!! Daddy!!! I'm COLD!!!

Kangaroo Daddy

OMG cheeks.

Here we are in Intermediate Care!
Our First Crib!!

close-up of crib action

Baby is snuggled in there!

I (almost) have a Baby-Sized-Baby!

mMmmmmm milk bubbles

so sleepy.... <3 

Don't know how this got in there.... But here is the Milk Journal
Huh... I need to drink more water this week!!

yesterday after we nursed for the first time <3

<3 sigh <3

<3 grow. baby. grow. <3


Saturday, July 14, 2012

Oh so cute...

1804 grams... 3 lbs 15 oz!!!

Check out those CHEEKS!

14 july

So I am about to take Zulu for a walk as she is a MANIAC who desperately needs attention, but before I do so, I just had to give a quick update... Because I posted that huge post yesterday about the joys of pumping... and then my shout out to Laura Keegan for her awesome book, Breastfeeding With Comfort and Joy, guess what.... Valentina started her very first bottle feeding, and breastfeeding attempt!  HA!!  Before last night, I had only read the book twice.  Now I will be studying and memorizing every last word!!!  

When I first walk in and open her incubator, I always say,
"Mama's here."  This is the face I get! HEART HEART HEART
(Actually last night I got a bigger smile, but I didn't pull out my camera fast enough!)
A few weeks ago, Nurse Nadiya helped me and Vivi with a "prequel to breastfeeding," where I brought baby to my breast, and helped put my nipple in her mouth, and she just kinda looked up at me like, "Wha?  Whatcha want, Mama?"  So, like I said, it was a prequel.  She was only about 34 weeks gestational age then, and the whole sucking/ swallowing/ breathing combo was still in the early developmental stages... HA!!  But now that she is off the oxygen, gaining weight like a champ, and now nearly 38 weeks (gestational age), she is even better prepared to start this last big hurdle of NICU life!    

So last night, Nurse Liliana (hope I spelled it right?) helped us get set up, helped me place baby, and we tried!  Valentina definitely suckled a little, she knows "what to do," but as she was hungry (35 minutes past feeding time!)  We started with the breastfeeding, and admittedly, my fault, we didn't try too long as poor baby was a little fussy, sleepy and used to her belly being filled at the exact same time every day.  I thought I had more time to run and grab a bite to eat and pump a little before our first feeding attempts, but as baby is now eating 8 times a day, her feeding schedule has changed, and Mama was late.  I didn't want to force it too long without giving her the rewarded milk...  Technically speaking, she has never "tasted" milk before, as it always goes directly into her belly via feeding tube, so I felt that it was a great first try.  Today we will try again, and I won't be late, and she won't be so fussy and hungry.  But with last night's first real go at it, I am happy!  I am confident with maybe one or two more tries, we will be very successful breastfeeding!  I plan on Kangarooing her for awhile before feeding time, so we will be super calm, snuggly and hopefully just flow right into a natural rhythm, the way both our bodies are intended to work together!  And the sooner this click! happens, the sooner we will be coming home from the hospital... OMG!!!  

OMG milky goodness.... Obrigada Enfermeira Liliana!

We were VERY successful bottle-feeding last night though!  Valentina drank about 20 ml of her milk in her "baba," we had some great burps and she was a very happy girl!  

In the last week, baby has come off her oxygen (one week yesterday!) and has started to bottle feed and pre-breastfeed (I am a positive thinker... hAhA!).  And when changing her HUGE diaper last night, I noticed something epic has happened to her tiny body:  weighing 1700 grams now, VALENTINA HAS A BUTT!  Before, she just had this tiny little flat bottom.  Last night I noticed that she has two little chubby butt cheeks!  Granted she is still smaller than most toy baby dolls... But she is developing perfectly, strongly and beautifully!  She is filling out and you can literally see a difference, day to day!   My heart is soaring!  We have a Real Baby!  Haha!!!

Valentina Lee's First Bottle
Friday, July 13th, 2012
7 PM.

I love you sweet baby!


The other day, my 84 year old neighbor brought me a HUGE zucchini from her garden.  While I always greatly appreciate the fruits (and veggies! hehe) of her elderly labor... I have to admit, I hate zucchini.  I've learned to like eggplant (most of the time) but zucchini, I just can't do it.  SO!  I remembered that I DO love zucchini bread.  I found a recipe (NOT my invention), and made my first Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread!  The recipe makes two loaves, and as Victor was out of town, and I certainly don't need TWO loaves, I brought the second loaf to the hospital for all the lovely nurses and doctors and auxiliaries who are there taking care of our sweet baby (and putting up with me).  It was a huge success!!  I need to translate it into Portuguese right away!!  But here it is! 

NOTE! *** I only bake in the oven for about 40 minutes!!!  (My oven is a little cranky so WATCH YOUR OVEN!!!

When I made this the other day, I had no nutmeg, and I skipped the nuts and raisins and threw in 100g of chocolate chips.  Don't want my zucchini too healthy.... :D  

Also requested, was the Best Banana Bread ever!  This is SO easy... Again, not my recipe but I have to pass my secrets along.  This recipe is great when you find those three bananas in the back of the fridge. You need three MATURE bananas, peel should be browning!  And I also always add cinnamon.

 And because it is that time of year here in Portugal, and everyone has plum trees with more plums that you can possibly eat...

Happy baking! 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Breastfeeding With Comfort And Joy

If you are a breastfeeding mama, plan to breastfeed, or are pregnant and are considering breastfeeding, you NEED this book.  My Aunt Lesley is a close friend of the author, Laura Keegan, and I have sent countless emails to Laura in the last 8 weeks and she has been a life-saver.  Every email I sent her, I apologized for the hysteria and the rambling, and the lengthy time it took me to respond to her previous email. Laura responded saying, DONT WORRY about it!  That I am the center of the universe, as I am MAKING MILK for my baby.  Email responses are SO not important!!

Anyhow, her book is beautiful and informative, and I plan on using it to further obsess once we are in the breastfeeding stage with my little preemie, Valentina.

Pumping. Pumping. Pumping.

Seeing that I have been attached to a breast pump for the last 64 days, I thought I should write a post about it, as I frequently complain about how its "Time to pump.  Again."  This isn't graphic, just honest.  


Valentina was born 66 days ago, and I didn't start pumping until about two days after, as I was in recovery for a day, and was a basket-case and totally out of it the following day...  I am estimating I started pumping two days after she was born, but my *Official Records* start May 13th.

So I missed out on most of pregnancy.  Or at least the parts that really count.  The big belly.  The kicks.  Peeing 19234098345 times a day.  The popped bellybutton.  The pickles and ice cream cravings.  Being super hot.  Oh.  And giving birth.  I didn't get to experience any of that.  I am determined to breast feed.  No. Matter. What.

So, I have spent the last 64 days squeezing my boobs.  Obsessing about boobs.  Writing down every last drop.  Chugging water.  Vitamins.  Sterilizing.  It is recommended that you pump every two hours.  Or three hours.  Or four hours.  The MAX is five hours.  Naturally, as this felt like THE ONLY thing in the UNIVERSE I could do for Valentina (especially in those first few weeks when I was hysterical ALL the time), I took on this endeavor with such obsessive precision that I must first apologize to ALL family and friends who have breasts, children, know anyone who has children and/ or breasts.  I AM SORRY.  THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE. . . 

So here is what I have learned...   

(Keep in mind that I have not yet breast-fed my baby, as she is still too small, but hopefully in the next week we will start!!!  This is just my personal experiences in the last two months.)
  • It really won't hurt after the first few days.  
  • If milk is still coming out, keep pumping.  I have pumped for an hour straight in the first few weeks (and after!) and while my butt hurt from sitting so long, my breasts no longer felt heavy, hard and sore.  And they leak.  After a good pump, I don't have any leaking.  
  • I can tell time by my boobs.  All of a sudden, I get a .05 second PING! of "pain" right in the center of my nipples.  I look at my watch, and sure enough, it is time to pump.  Again.  And then the alarm on my phone goes off.  I can truly tell time with my cans.... HA!!!  I say "pain" as it isn't experienced long enough to call pain, but its definitely a PING!

When I was still in the hospital, I was using the Medela Symphony hospital grade pump.  I would use the sterilized kits provided from the hospital and the sterilized glass bottle.  If I had endless $$, I would spend the $1,500 on the hospital grade Medela pump.  It is epic.

Medela Symphony Hospital Grade Breast Pump.
If you have a preemie in the hospital, or if you will be a working/ pumping mama
GET THIS.  It is worth every penny.  
  • The first few days, you may not get ANYTHING!  I was thrilled when I had my first little drips of milk, called colostrum.  After just one week, I was pumping more than 100 ml of milk.
  • The first milk is the most IMPORTANT LIQUID GOLD!  (Read the link above!)  
My colostrum was nice and thick, like cream.  It was actually a nice pale yellow,which is great!  But there are some Mamas who's colostrum is almost orange.  WOAH.  That shizzah is like. WOAH. (Maybe their babies were full-term?  I felt very competitive about my milk not being GOLD enough. HAha)
  • In the hospital, I pumped each breast for 20 minutes, every two to three hours.  
  • Now that I am home, I TRY to pump each breast 20- 30 minutes, every three to four hours, depending on what's going on in life.    
  • If you don't pump often enough, you will be in PAIN.  Or you will ruin your favorite shirt.  And your bed sheets.  And all of your pajamas.  
  • Even if your baby is in the NICU and is too little to drink any/ all of your milk, SAVE it.  FREEZE IT.  DON'T DUMP IT.  
Especially the first two weeks milk!  This is the liquid gold for your baby, with endless health benefits that only you and your body can provide.  I see Mamas that the NICU parents' room disappear behind the screen to sit and pump.  It feels like they are there for 10 minutes (total) and come out with two baby bottles (about 200 ML) FULL of milk.  And I am there an hour, only to produce two little drips of milk...    
  • I think I have a slow milk- letdown reflex.   I've learned, I just have to deal with it.  
 I've read that if you look at photos of your baby, smell baby's shirt, blanket, etc., it can help "teach" you to start milk-squirting sooner.  Especially in the beginning, if I pumped for 10 minutes per breast, I would have little nothing drips, not even my super-tiny-precious-preemie could squeeze some nutrition out of it.  Say, less than 10mL.  If I pumped for 20 minutes, I get a good amount, say 20- 40 mL.  If I pumped for 30 minutes, then I'd get 50 mL!  I didn't have anything Valentina-scented to sniff in the beginning (this made me cry), as she was still to tiny to wear clothes.  The photos of her the first few weeks were painful, not endearing.  No amount of meditation could calm my stress as I was begging the heavens for my baby's survival, let enjoy a moment of peace in which I could produce oodles of  milky goodness.... Give me a break.  I have accepted it.

Maybe when I am breastfeeding with my Vivi attached to said breast (and not my friend, The Pump) it will be different.  I will have to get back to you on this one...  But for now, I know I need MINIMUM of 20 minutes per breast, thus the biggest reason why I bought a second Medela Swing.  I tuck them into my maternity bra, kinda hang the shirt over the top for stability and hold with my left arm, while I attempt to Facebook one-handed.  I bought one of those double-pump bras, but it was too big, so I have to return it.  It technically worked, but it was really giant on me, practically slipping off.  If it fit properly, I would say HELL YEAH.  I may or may not buy another one, in the correct size.  If Vivi starts breastfeeding in the next week I probably won't get another.  But if you think you will be pumping as often as I have been, I recommend that you DEFINITELY buy a second pump and the double pump bra.  You will feel like a cow, and I often MOO to my hubby as a joke... But it will be a life-saver.  And a sanity- saver.  I was so tired one morning that I just whipped out my boobs to pump in front of my cleaning lady.  In hindsight, I really, really wish I had that double pump bra that day...              

Oh yes, here I am, double- pumping, reading a magazine and enjoying my coffee.

Two free hands to blog & Facebook chat!

How I really feel.

After I got out of the hospital, I didn't have a pump yet.  My sister-in-law Carmen came to my rescue.  Twice.  The day I got out of the hospital, she brought me three different pumps, though none were as lovely and luxurious as the Medela Symphony...  (The hospital grade vs. the home grade really aren't on the same sphere of comparison... BUT more on this in a bit...)  So, we went to the mall and found the next best thing, as my other sister-in-law Ana Filipa recommended, the Medela Swing.  I now have two...  

Medela Swing Home Breast Pump.
I love mine so much, I got two, to save time, and
"just in case."
Also worth-every-penny.
On both.
You will also need:

  • Milk bags.
  • Sterilizing bags.
  • A sharpie.
  • A notebook to write it all down.
  • A subscription to Netflix, Hulu, etc.
  • Batteries/ car charger for your pump.  Traffic happens, and your boobies will thank you. 
  • A very comfortable chair.  (HA!) 
  • Snacks.  And endless bottles of water.
  • Digital timer.  I say digital, as every second that ticks by, you wanna know...
  • Books.  Lots and lots of books.  
  • Ziplock bags, for your supply in the freezer.
  • Those blue freezer cold pack things for transporting your frozen Mamamilk to the hospital.
  • Cold lunchbox, also for traveling to hospital.  

Because I am obsessive, I have a little try for my pump parts to cool/ air dry, after they have sterilized.  I also have a separate sponge to wash with, though I wish I had thought of it sooner than two weeks ago....  After over 6 weeks of using a regular (you know, relatively new) dish sponge, I thought to use a brand new one, JUST for baby.  I guess I am not that obsessed... Or just not that quick thinking..... ?

Medela Pump & Save milk bags.
THEY COME IN 50 packs?!!!
I can only find 20 bags here!!!
BUY in bulk.
Yes you will need ALL of them if you are a pumping mama.

Medela Sterilize Bags.  Five per box, 20 uses each.
Also, can't live without these.  
What else have I learned...
  • Get on a schedule, and don't let ANYONE for any reason change it.  I got into a fight with Victor (dear sweet man, bless his heart for loving me...) because I was allowing myself to get off schedule.
  • You NEED to sleep.  You NEED to eat.  You NEED to pump.  Don't feel guilty for letting anyone or anything get in the way of this.  This is really important.  Just as no one begrudges a pregnant lady for needing any of these things, you are making milk for your preemie.  I think more than ever, these basic Mama-Needs are even more important!  
  • I pump at:  1:30 AM, 7:30 AM, 10:30 AM, 1:30 PM, 4:30 PM, 7:30 PM, 10:30 PM.  
I know I am not supposed to from 1:30 - 7:30 without pumping, but I just can't do it.  I cannot function without that bit of sleep.  It is not recommended going this long without pumping, but this is what I have found works for me.  If I don't get this chunk of sleep, then I am non-functional and NOTHING gets done.  And because I cannot wake myself up at 1:30 AM, I usually stay up...  That is when I watch ABC family shows on Hulu.  I am embarrassed about this...  I watch The Secret Life of the American Teenager at 2 AM.  (I hang my head in shame.) HAhAhha!!!!

Moving right along... What else do you need to know.

  • Don't lay down and pump.  You will fall asleep.  At 2 PM.  Or 2 AM.  You WILL fall asleep.  You will spill your hard earned milk.  You WILL ruin your pump this way, too.
  • Get on a schedule IMMEDIATELY.  It just makes things easier on you.  And your partner.... 
  • Don't obsess the way I did about sterilizing.  If you sterilize your pump parts, and don't use them  in the next 20 seconds, YOUR BABY WILL BE FINE.  I was scalding my fingers as I was so paranoid about sterilization... It's OK to relax.  Keep it clean, but don't hurt yourself...  (I really wish someone had told me this in the first place...)
  • After each use, I wash all parts with hot water, my Baby Only sponge, and regular dish soap.  Then I sterilize in the Medela microwave bags, then I lay out on my clean plate to air dry.  
I guess these parts are technically sterile after they air dry for two hours until the next pumping session, but after I blew the motor of one pump, spoke to Medela, etc, I realized what the issue was:  me.  Again, this is what works for me... I am no doctor, nurse, representative for Medela, etc...
  • Sterilize your pump tubes once a day.  I do it after my 1:30 AM pumping session, to give them a few hours to finish drying.  
Condensation will build up inside the pump tube.  If this harmless water gets sucked into your pump, IT WILL BE RUINED.  Or at minimum, it will never work the same... The lowest settings (for those sensitive nippies, especially in the first days) will never be the same...  BE CAREFUL!

  • Write it all down.  
I cannot stress this enough.  It will become a source of pride, to see how little you pumped in the beginning, and to how great you are a month later.  I also take notes like "BAD!"  When I went too long not pumping, how much water I drink (about 2 L a day... should be three!!), things like that.  If I could do it all over again, I would leave more space each day to write daily notes.  

I read in one of my preemie books that 10 days after birth, you should be producing about 600 ml of milk each day.  When I read that about a month ago, I PANICKED.  Not that sweet baby Valentina is consuming anywhere near that quite yet, the fact that I was only producing 150- 200 ml a day at that point, I really felt like I wasn't doing enough.  And I know that I wasn't really committing myself as much as I could be.  At that point (early June), I was pumping 4 to 5 times a day, sometimes 6.  That's kinda a lie... Maybe once a week I pumped 6 times a day... Now, looking at my Milk Journal, I can say I DEFINITELY pump 5 to 6 times a day, though my goal for next week is to be able to say I pump 6 to 7 times a week and drink 2- 2.5 liters of water a day.  That is two and a half Nalgenes a day.  That is a lot of bathroom trips. 

As a result of my super-efforts, I am now producing about 450 ml of milk a day!  

  • Drink the water.  Don't "sorta" drink the recommended 3L of water.  Do it. I am drinking about 2L a day.  If I drink less, I can actually see the numbers of precious milliliters of milk decrease.
  • Take your vitamins. 
  • Milk supplements?  I am taking Promil twice a day.  More about this in future posts.

Promil Milk Supplement
This is the one that was recommended to me by the NICU
I kinda like the taste too...

My parting thoughts:  Pumping for a preemie still in the hospital will feel like it is taking over your life.  I have mountains of laundry to do.  I am exhausted.  I am hungry ALL the time.  I get super grouchy.  When I pump the scheduled two to three times when I am at the hospital in the 7 to 8 hours I average there a day, I am taking away 1.5 hours of BaBy TiME.  There are days when I feel like I didn't get to see Valentina at the hospital, because I spent the whole time pumping.  (This probably isn't true, but it feels that way.)  And there are definitely days where I feel jealous of Victor, as he gets to Kangaroo hold baby, while I have to go pump.  Again.  

And it's not just 20 minutes pump and go!  You have to set up, pump, record, clean, put away.  Then you will have to pee, stretch, eat and chug more water.  Pumping for 20 minutes is about a 30 to 40 minute production.  I need to time each hour of my life.  I still haven't gotten that mani/ pedi.  Poor Victor hasn't had too many home cooked meals... though things are FINALLY balancing out better these days.  Two days ago, I even baked for the first time in THREE MONTHS!!!  (Chocolate Chip Zucchini Bread recipe later!)  I won't even GO into my lack-of-exercise- schedule...  But I AM signing up for a half marathon at the end of September, so  Monday morning:  IT IS ON.  

I am so unreliably proud of myself that I have stuck with it.  There are still times when I look at my watch, or hear my phone alarm go off, "it's time to pump.  Again."  And I start to cry.  (Sniffle, moan, grown, tear up a little, etc...)  It can be really, truly frustrating, that it is time to pump.  Again.   I f I start to cry at pump time, it's mostly just because I want sympathy and loving acknowledgement and encouragement from Vic.  And he gives me my much needed/ deserved hugs & kisses, and I go off to my "office" to pump, satisfied.  And sometimes, he brings me ice cream. (Extra husband points for this.)    

Pump parts.  *sigh.*

This is driving me crazy that this photo is sideways... 
But I write down the TIME that correlates to each time I use the sterilizing bag, that way, in case if
I forget to mark off the number at 2 AM, its a-OK.  And it helps keep track of how often I 
sterilize the pumping tubes.  

Pumping.  It takes over your life AND your kitchen. 

The baby cupboard.  

This is where I spend A LOT of time.......

And here is some notes from my Milk Diary... I can't believe I just called it that.... HAhhahah 

It really wasn't an option for me, to quit.  Not once did I think that I didn't want to do this anymore, that I should have just gone with formula etc.  There has been no "damage" to my breasts so far, no sagging, etc.  I obsessively put Mustela booby cream on, and I use about four different lotions post-shower (also takes up LOTS of time) but it is worth it.  Plus, I told Vic right from the start... I hope to breast feed all of our babies.  And once we are done having kids, for my (approximate) 40th birthday, I would like the best boob-job money can buy.  Just to put everything back where God intended.  That way we are BOTH happy.  (If it is necessary, of course... ) HA!!

Having a huge support system (and an incredible husband) is really important.  I have constantly reached out to family and friends about pumping, breastfeeding etc on numerous occasions, and while everyone pretty much says something different, all you can do is factor it all in, and slowly but surely, figure out what works for you.  I have actually pumped TWICE since I started this post, and I am FAMISHED and LATE to run off to the hospital today, so I must RUN.

One last little photo of baby last night, before I left... Oh how I am in love!! <3

Just after a HUGE diaper change, she was waiting for her milk... Not too thrilled...

All snuggled in for the night.... <3 <3 <3          

Oh sweet Valentina Lee...