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Breastfeeding Our Miracle Baby

By Marlene Thoms
Duncan, British Columbia, Canada
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 11 No. 1, January-February 1994, pp. 11-12.

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time

Our son, Nikolas, was born at Grace Hospital in Vancouver fourteen weeks prematurely. He weighed two pounds, two ounces. Within the first week he required surgery to repair a diaphragmatic hernia which interfered with the development of his lungs and bowels. Only when he had survived surgery did I begin to hope that he might live, because he had already beaten so many odds.

For six long weeks he was on full life-support, ventilation, IV feeds, and heart and respiration monitors to rest his delicate respiratory and digestive systems. A second surgery was required to correct a bowel obstruction. During this entire time there was little I could do for him. I carefully observed his body language in order to learn his signs of fatigue or distress, and I taught him to suck his thumb so that he could comfort himself and maintain this important reflex. I kept pumping my milk four times a day and at night if I awoke feeling uncomfortable. I found massage really helpful in getting the milk to let down. I was afraid the amount I produced would eventually decrease so I pumped out more than was necessary.

I had nursed my other two boys and knew that after Niko's long hospitalization I was going to need the nursing to establish the feelings of closeness and normalcy. I also knew he would need the immunities and easy digestibility of breast milk because any infections could be serious in a baby whose lungs and digestive systems were healing. Later I found that breastfeeding diminished the stress for both of us in coping with painful medical procedures and disturbing hospital routines.

After the second surgery, Niko finally began to wean from the ventilator and the IV feeds, starting with l-cc. feeds of my milk by nasal tube. At nine-and-a-half weeks I was finally allowed to hold him for the first time and have what I called "a fake breastfeeding"--just for the taste--because he was too weak to suck, swallow, and breathe all at once. Some nurses really cooperated by giving him my milk fresh (instead of frozen-pasteurized). They also encouraged me to persist with feeds at the breast even when I thought it was almost too much for him. The frightening alarms of the monitors went off frequently due to his heart-rate slowing and his choking on the milk. But his oxygenation levels proved better when nursing than when bottle-feeding or even resting--an encouraging sign to me. We often tube-fed part or all of a feed just to save his strength and kept bottles to a minimum.

In spite of my determination to breastfeed him, once he was transferred to our smaller, local hospital, less-knowledgeable nurses wanted to bottle-feed him entirely. With the support of a more enlightened nurse, the head nurse, and the pediatrician, I finally got orders to stop using bottles and use tube feeds to rest him at night so that he could breastfeed during the day. I accomplished this with the help of my La Leche League Leader. Her knowledge and encouragement allowed me to concentrate on what I knew was best for my baby.

Around the time of Niko's due date I became discouraged. I had thought he would be home by then, but feedings were still a struggle for him. There was again more pressure to increase bottle-feeding. I finally insisted that they bottle-feed him for twenty-four hours to prove to me their claims that he could do better bottle-feeding than breastfeeding. Of course he lost weight and wasted his meager strength fussing. That convinced me that I couldn't do much worse at home with him. Fortunately the pediatrician agreed, and Niko came home at sixteen weeks of age, weighing six pounds, three ounces. He was still on the heart monitor, and I was armed with Infant Resuscitation Training.

I fed him whenever he stirred or squeaked at all. At the end of the first week home he had gained seven ounces--seven times what he had gained the previous week in the hospital! I was thrilled and relieved--he was fully breastfed--no gadgets or bottles were necessary. Nikolas was so glad to be home--I think he figured he had gone to heaven. I finally felt he was really "all mine."

His progress since then has been just fine in every area. He is the happiest, most loving little guy you could imagine. Although nursing was still not easy for the first few weeks at home (he needed small frequent feeds and extra naps), he has barely had a sniffle in spite of leading a full schedule around our two other sons, Peter, six, and Konrad, five. Everyone else in the family has had a flu, cold, or ear infection but Nikolas has been very healthy. Was it worth it? You bet it was!

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