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The Learning Curve

Amanda H. Fleischer
King of Prussia PA USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 23 No. 1, January-February 2006, pp. 10-11

My husband, Peter, and I married on May 22, 2004. Exactly one year later, our first child, Anna, was born. I always knew that I would breastfeed; it was never really a question in my mind. However, I was not a breastfed baby, so I did as much reading as possible about the subject in the months leading up to Anna's birth. I even attended two La Leche League meetings before Anna was born. Just hearing other mothers talk about their experiences was relaxing, and they tolerated my many questions very well. The feeling of support was wonderful. I knew I had come to the right place.

As my due date approached, I was focusing more on the nursing rather than the actual birth process. I started gathering names and numbers of people I could call for help, as I knew the learning process for both mother and baby could be frustrating. With my bag packed and my list of numbers in hand, I was as ready as I could be for nursing our child.

Early on the morning of our first anniversary, I was fluffing my pillows in preparation to climb back into bed when my water broke. Anna's birth went quickly. I went from three to 10 centimeters in only 90 minutes. Her heart rate was dropping and staying low, so I ended up having a cesarean birth. I was lucky, though, as my baby girl and I were together within two hours. It was not ideal, but to my relief, she latched on quickly and nursed well. She was so tiny, only five pounds, nine ounces, and my breast looked so large next to her little head. Fortunately, my nerves started to calm, and our relationship began.

I was adamant about nursing Anna every two hours (to build my milk supply for one, but I also heard it helped to prevent engorgement). Hospital staff agreed to bring Anna to me every two hours for the first night, as I could not easily care for my baby immediately after the surgery. The next day Anna began to room-in, and all was going well until jaundice forced her under lights to help her bilirubin go down.

A neonatologist who understood the importance of human milk was on staff that day. Once Anna was under treatment, the doctor took the time to explain to me what jaundice is and how it affects a baby's body. She also stressed that Anna needed to remain hydrated and encouraged me to nurse her every two hours. After about four hours of treatment, the doctor became concerned because there were crystals in Anna's urine, so she presented me with two options: put Anna on an IV or pump every two hours with the hospital grade pump and feed via bottle to measure what Anna was taking in. I opted to pump, but met with a variety of obstacles. For one, the hospital did not have any kits to hook up to the pump, so instead a nurse gave me a hand pump. I also did not want to give Anna a bottle. Panic started to set in, but even in my weary haze I remembered the list of names and numbers I had so carefully gathered. I started calling for help.

My first calls were to LLL Leaders who reminded me that breastfeeding was the best thing for a newborn, even if jaundice was a concern. It was exactly what I needed to hear. I still had the problem of no kit for pumping. One of the numbers I had was for a lactation consultant whose assistant, Jennifer, also worked as a postpartum doula. Jennifer immediately came to the hospital with the necessary kit so that I could begin pumping. She brought me a finger-feeder, too, because I was very concerned about nipple confusion. Anna had been nursing well up to that point. Jennifer showed me how to hook up to the pump and then proceeded to give me a lesson in finger-feeding. Anna gulped it all down, and the doctor was pleased with the reported number.

After Jennifer left for the evening, my two-hour schedule slowly made me exhausted. I would get out of bed, walk to the nursery, pump for 15 minutes, and then try to feed Anna with the finger-feeder, which was not easy with so little experience. By the time I made it back to my room, I would have about 25 minutes to sleep before I had to start over again. After several failed attempts at finger-feeding, I gave her my milk in a bottle. I was very disappointed, but Anna was soon healthy enough to come home. She weighed five pounds, two ounces when she was discharged.

I look back on Anna's first few nights at home as my nightmare. Even though she was nursing well after birth, once we had her home, she refused my breast. I don't think I have ever cried so hard. With Jennifer's help, my husband and I had to re-teach Anna how to nurse. I would pump, and as Peter had the magic touch, he would feed our daughter. We started with a dropper, moved back to the finger feeder, progressed to a supplemental nursing system, and then, finally, Anna latched on again.

Thinking about the whole experience upsets me in a way, yet reminds me of the importance of the support LLL provides. I really have La Leche League and Jennifer to thank for our success. After a very rough start, Anna re-learned what she always knew. And at her two-month checkup, I am happy to report that she weighed 11 pounds, 11 ounces. Now if that isn't progress, I don't know what is!

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