My Reluctant Nursling
Cynthia Rushton NL, Canada From New Beginnings, Vol. 26 No. 1, 2009, pp. 14-15
Before I became pregnant, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. I spoke to many moms who had breastfed and was warned that it was not as "natural" and "easy" as some might think. However, even knowing this, my breastfeeding journey with my son was more than just a rocky start!
I didn't assume that breastfeeding would be easy; in fact I was quite nervous about it, so started researching before my pregnancy. I searched article after article online, reading about improper latches and how to get a proper latch, and about common problems with breastfeeding and how to overcome them. I also watched videos. I attended La Leche League meetings, purchased and read my own copy of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, and I spoke to experienced mothers frequently and asked them questions. Even after all my research, nothing had prepared me for what lay ahead!
I had a wonderful pregnancy, very healthy and with no concerns. I went into labor and was doing well. We went to the hospital because I was experiencing some bleeding. I was hooked up to monitors and discovered that my baby was in distress. After a few hours of monitoring in the hope that things would resolve themselves, the doctors decided to rupture my membranes. Once this happened I heard my nurse say one word: "meconium." Shortly after that I was told that I needed an emergency cesarean, and was wheeled into the operating room.
When Caleb was born we only got a quick glance at him before he was taken away. They finally got him to breathe after four minutes. The doctors told me later that this was the worst case of meconium aspiration they had ever seen. Our little boy was barely hanging on to life and was hooked up to so many machines that the only part of his little body we could touch was the top of his head. The nurses set me up with a breast pump the next morning, and I was told that even just small drops of colostrum were to be saved to bring to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for Caleb. I was so proud the first time I was able to bring down two ml of colostrum! Caleb was on various ventilators and machines to help him breathe for the first three weeks of his life and was not able to eat: he was fed with a feeding tube -- all my own milk. He also had a lot of suctioning and other unpleasant things happening with his mouth.
Finally at three weeks old, the lactation consultant felt he was ready to try breastfeeding. He latched on but, because of the problems with his lungs, he quickly ran out of energy. We kept trying to feed him once or twice a day (he did not have the energy for more than that) and he was doing okay though far from well.
When he was five weeks old we both got thrush. Breastfeeding was excruciating for both of us, and it was the last straw for Caleb. He gave up breastfeeding entirely and each time we tried, it became a huge fight. The more we fought, the more Caleb resisted. It finally got to the point where as soon as he was placed next to me he either screamed frantically or refused to open his mouth and just went to sleep. We had to stop breastfeeding because it was too stressful for both of us. I continued pumping with the intention of gradually moving Caleb back toward breastfeeding.
When Caleb was about seven weeks old the doctors and nurses started talking about Caleb going home. He still had a feeding tube so my husband, Matthew, and I had to be trained how to insert and remove the tube ourselves. He came home at 10 weeks, still not breastfeeding, and not doing well bottle-feeding either. We were told that once he got home he might relax more and latch on. Much to my disappointment, this did not happen. Caleb was still upset every time I put him near my breast. He would turn his head and arch away from me. He would struggle in any position except upright on someone's shoulder. I called Rachel, one of my La Leche League Leaders, in tears and explained the situation to her. She immediately found helpful information about "the aggressive non-nurser" in The Breastfeeding Answer Book. I felt much better after talking to her, and she promised to try to contact the author of the piece, Barbara Heiser. Within a day, Rachel called me back to let me know she had spoken to Ms. Heiser and gave me several suggestions. She also gave me a phone number so that I could contact her myself. When I did contact her, I discovered that Caleb was doing much better than I had originally thought; I had gotten him to the point where he would lick my nipple and smile at me -- like it was a game! Ms. Heiser said that she had never known a baby who refused to breastfeed after getting to that point. I held onto those words every time I felt discouraged. She also suggested that I make a breastfeeding diary to track his progress. This was a great comfort when I was feeling down, because I was able to look back objectively and see that he was not doing as badly as I felt he was.
That month, Caleb and I went to a La Leche League meeting with my friend and her son, even though Caleb was still not breastfeeding. While we were there Caleb was watching my friend, Joni, with amazement as her son breastfed. I told him, "See Caleb? That's what you're supposed to do!" The support I got that night was great. The next night Rachel came over to our apartment and worked with Caleb, my husband, and me. Within the next few days Caleb latched on and breastfed for the first time since he was four weeks old -- this was definitely one of the best moments in my life! Unfortunately, the hard part of our journey was not over yet. After a day or so, he stopped breastfeeding and started getting upset again, but this time I knew not to push him and not to fight with him. We tried something new. My husband held Caleb to my breast while I fed him. This gave me one hand free to do breast compressions, which gave Caleb immediate gratification for his efforts, and one hand to give him some more support. This worked really well for a few days but again Caleb stopped. I had figured out that he liked the extra support, and tried feeding him on his changing table, leaning over him. It worked! Caleb continued to breastfeed like this for about five weeks, with no fighting. I was thrilled! Then he started biting me. Thankfully he had no teeth but he thought it was a great game and would lock his jaw so tightly that I could not get it open! I talked to my friend Lesley, who had breastfed both her children, and she talked me through this. She advised me to take him off my breast and say, "No." I tried that and he laughed! I discovered I had to lay him in his crib, and leave him for a moment. Thankfully after a few days he learned not to bite! My husband encouraged me by reminding me that Caleb had gotten good enough at breastfeeding that he was now having "normal" breastfeeding issues.
Currently Caleb is breastfeeding but still needs to be fed with a feeding tube because he does not take enough from me. I breastfeed Caleb and then pump so that he gets only my milk. He has been breastfeeding in my arms for about three weeks now and, although we still have ups and downs, he is doing much better. We are working with a dietitian and an occupational therapist to try to wean him off his feeding tube, and both are very supportive of breastfeeding.
I have no way to tell what the future will hold, or if Caleb will ever breastfeed exclusively, but I have had one prayer answered -- that my little boy is finally breastfeeding after a five-month journey. I know I never would have been able to keep going without the wonderful support I received from my friends Joni and Lesley, my LLL Leaders Rachel and Helen, Barbara Heiser, the nurses and lactation consultant at the hospital, and my mother and mother-in-law, both of whom breastfed and attended La Leche League meetings when they had babies. The stories in New Beginnings lifted my spirits, letting me know that other moms had gone through difficult trials and overcome them. My hope is that my story will lift the spirits of a mother who may be in a similar situation, and that she will not give up on the dream of breastfeeding her baby, as there is no greater feeling in the world than holding your contented baby knowing he's getting the very best from you!