Ally Ward is a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner and mom to preemie twin boys. She has both personal and professional experience in the NICU, and is a passionate advocate for families who are in this position. She recently took the time to share her story, and how she thinks that freeze-dried breast milk could help families transitioning from the NICU, as well as moms who are balancing their career goals with the desire to continue providing breast milk to their infants.
"A few months ago, I was working in my shared office space and heard THE sound. The sound that permeated by mind and triggered so many emotions. The sound that seemed like a constant companion through five months in the NICU with premature twins. Not the monitors and alarms, but the sound of the breast pump. I had to stop and give pause to my memories of pumping while also working as a neonatal nurse practitioner in a very busy neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). My colleague had just returned from maternity leave and had to use our shared office to pump every 2-3 hours in order to maintain her breast milk supply. I was reminded of her “mom worrier” status as she had been through a nightmare of an ordeal over the past 2 years in order to become pregnant and maintain her pregnancy. We bonded over bedrest experiences and shared tears thinking about how the NICU is the most wonderful place you never want to visit as a parent. We both love our jobs as neonatal nurse practitioners and found the lack of breastfeeding and pumping support overwhelming at times. The lack of privacy and the pervasive nature of constant interruptions during pumping coupled with an inadequate space to safely and securely store breast milk are two of the largest obstacles women must overcome in order to pump and provide breast milk when they return to work.
Being a mom of preemie twins AND a working nurse practitioner, I take any discussion of breast milk very seriously. Breast milk is not just about nutrition, it is a life-saving substance due to the immune properties in breast milk that protect the immature gut from bacterial infection and improve intestinal function. Also, preterm mamas’ milk changes based on the baby’s gestational age = breast milk magic!
As a society, we need to reframe our conversation around breast milk. It is not about breast or bottle, mom’s milk or formula. The real issue is that women should receive correct information about breast milk and be supported to make decisions that are best for their bodies, their babies and their professional choices.
If the right to provide breast milk is to be fully utilized, women must be supported to work and travel AND provide breast milk in any manner that they desire. Choosing technology that maintains the nutrients, calories and immune properties and extends the life of breast milk not only enhances the health of infants; it simultaneously supports women in making decisions that are best for their careers, their earning potential and their employer.
Speaking from the experience of a nurse practitioner with premature twins and a very limited supply of breast milk I was constantly worried that something would happen to disrupt our supply of stored breast milk. My sister experienced a loss of over 3 months’ worth of pumped milk when her freezer was accidently left open, unnoticed and when inspected all the milk was thawed and unable to be used while she was one thousand miles away on a work trip. We also had the misfortune of losing 7 days’ worth of my pumped milk when it was improperly mixed with fortifier. My husband is a great dad and husband, so the following words should be read with that in mind as he caused the most egregious act of our married life; he accidentally wasted seven days’ worth of my breast milk! In his sleep deprived state (as he took the night shift caring for the babies so I could work or recover from 24 hour work shifts) he mistook the breast milk for water and added a substantial amount of formula to the breast milk and just like that it was unusable. SEVEN DAYS worth of breast milk and 20 hours down the drain! Imagine pouring 20 hours of paid work down the drain.
Due to limited breast milk supply coupled with the antiquated and difficult method of storing breast milk I was forced to make the decision to stop pumping a few days prior to attending a medical conference. I could not figure out how to pump, store my milk and transport it back home on a five-hour flight. I had to make the decision between attending a conference that I knew could potentially further my career, as a noted neonatal researcher was going to be in attendance, and the health of my six-month-old babies. I often wonder if continued availability of breast milk could have prevented my sons’ frequent respiratory infections and subsequent hospitalizations.
Mom guilt is very real, and even when unfounded creates significant emotional distress.
I still feel terrible that this single decision caused any degree of harm to my sweet babies. I also wonder how much less stress our family would have endured if Milkify had been available a few years ago. I would have been able to pump my milk during conference attendance, have it freeze-dried and mailed back for immediate use while not sacrificing my career goals. I also would have been able to minimize the risk of contamination of my breast milk and decreased my anxiety about storage options and risk of loss of frozen milk. When employers embrace practices that support pumping, collection and storage of breast milk it demonstrates a clear commitment to women and their value in the workplace. This shift in support transforms the narrative from employers simply tolerating a women’s desire to pump to recognition of the value that motherhood and parenting bring to a work environment."
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Allyson Ward, MSN, NNP-BC
Ally Ward is a Neonatal nurse practitioner and mom of twin preemies. She is passionate about providing education and support to families of infants through clinical expertise, collaboration and compassion.