Newborn Gage

Newborn Gage’s struggle to survive

On January 16, 2015, not much more than halfway through her pregnancy (at 22 weeks and five days), Heather Radford’s water broke. Two days later and still pregnant, she was transferred from her local hospital to Sunnybrook, where she gave birth to her son Gage.

Heather knew that for babies born 17 weeks early, survival was not a foregone conclusion.

“Many times we had to prepare for the worst – that he might not get through this,” says Heather. “We knew we might have to let him go.”

Fortunately, Gage, who weighed only 1 lb 6 oz. at birth, did pull through, thanks to hands-on family support and state-of-the-art care in Sunnybrook’s Newton Glassman Charitable Foundation Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). Four months later, the day before his due date, he went home.

An element of care that is foundational to treatment in Sunnybrook’s NICU – and which Heather credits for Gage’s survival and growth – is feeding with breast milk. “Breast milk is critical for infants, particularly at-risk preemies, because it contains antibodies that help fight disease, prevent infection and promote brain development,” says Jo Watson PhD, a nurse practitioner and operations director for the DAN Women & Babies Program.

In 2015, Sunnybrook formalized its commitment to breastfeeding by establishing Canada’s first Breastfeeding Centre of Excellence. “Already, Sunnybrook’s rate of exclusive breastfeeding upon discharge from the NICU is twice the national average, and we are dedicated to establishing, improving and sharing best practices,” says Dr. Watson, leader of the new Centre.

For Heather, it took a great deal of commitment to breastfeed Gage. “From the moment he was born, I pumped about 10 times a day, which is very time-consuming. The breastfeeding staff at Sunnybrook were very encouraging. They checked up on me and gave me strategies to make it easier.”

“He has done so well health-wise and I attribute a lot of that to breast milk and the breastfeeding support I received at Sunnybrook,” says Heather.