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The Closeness of Nursing

Kathryn Heckenbach
Valrico FL USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 24 No. 2, March -- April 2007, pp. 68-70

Until October 2004, I thought I had experienced, and overcome, just about every obstacle to breastfeeding I could imagine. With my son, Nickie, I battled thrush for two months and had to feed him mostly by pumping and giving him bottles of my milk. When he was two months old, he finally began to nurse at the breast, but I had to deal with an oversupply of milk. We went through a nursing strike at 17 months. When he was nearly two, I discovered I was pregnant with my daughter. I began the weaning process (I felt prematurely) due to my sore nipples. Fortunately, all Nickie needed was a little encouragement and he weaned himself. Overall, we had a wonderful nursing relationship.

Because of my experiences with my son, I was armed with knowledge and things went much more smoothly with my daughter, Anna. Our only obstacle seemed to be a few minor bouts with mastitis. Then, in October of 2004, days after Anna's second birthday, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. I had had (unrelated) surgery twice that year and we were able to resume nursing within a matter of hours, so I knew surgery was not a real obstacle for us. However, the doctor told me that I would most likely need radiation and chemotherapy even if I had surgery. After discussing it with him and my husband, we decided the right course of action for us would be extensive radiation treatment and chemotherapy. I found out that radiation is safe during breastfeeding, but I had no choice but to wean abruptly for the chemotherapy.

This was the hardest thing I ever had to deal with. I was being told I had to fight for my life and, in order to do so, I would have to give up one of the greatest sources of comfort for me and my daughter. After asking LLL Leaders and lactation consultants for advice, I chose to let Anna nurse as often as she liked until my first treatment and just cherish those last few days. The first day of chemotherapy came, and I cried the entire time Anna nursed that morning knowing it would be our last time. I had to spend hours at the treatment center, and when I returned home I was so happy to see Anna having a great time with her grandparents, who had cared for her all day. But soon she began to tire and started asking for "nu-nu." I explained to her that I was very sick and the doctor had to put chemicals in me to make me better, and that the chemicals would make her very sick, so we could no longer have nu-nu. She cried, of course, and I had to find a way to calm her, so I grabbed the sling, put her in it, and walked around the house singing to her until she fell asleep.

Amazingly, Anna slept through that first night. When she awoke in the morning, she looked at me and quietly asked for nu-nu. I told her the doctor said no. She asked only twice after that and made not even the slightest fuss when I reminded her that the doctor said no. For two months, I continued my radiation and chemotherapy treatments and dealt with horrible sickness and fatigue. Anna was very caring toward her sick Mommy. I was so thankful that she had weaned so easily and was totally amazed by it! This was a girl who had told me every day from the time she was able to say it, "Love nu-nu."

But I was soon to be even more amazed by my exceptional little angel. A few days before my last treatment, I was telling her that I would soon be better and we would be taking a trip to our favorite place, Disney World. She looked at me with eyes wide and said "Mommy all better? Nu-nus all better? Drink nu-nu?" I could not believe my ears. I knew she had not forgotten completely about nursing because she had continued to "nurse" her baby dolls. But we had not been around any of my nursing friends for two months and she had not even asked for it for so long. I told her we could try once all the chemicals were gone from my body. But, during the following week, after my final treatment, she stopped asking again. At this point, I felt somewhat relieved because the treatment had seemingly dried up my usually super-abundant supply. I assumed she had forgotten about nursing again and decided I would not do anything to try and bring my supply back or suggest nursing to her again.

Then, more than a week after my last treatment, on a day when I was obviously beginning to feel like myself again, I was talking on the phone and Anna asked me if I was "all better." I said yes and she said quite insistently "Anna want nu-nu." Oh, wow. I told her we could try (at this point the chemotherapy drug was out of my system), but that there was probably no milk. So we sat on the couch in our old nursing spot and she tried to latch on, but spent most of the time stroking my face and saying "Mommy" and "nu-nu" with a look of sheer contentment on her face. I figured she must have only remembered the closeness of nursing, but not the actual act, and we would do this a few times then go back to being weaned. But that night at bedtime when she asked to nurse, she latched right on just like old times and nursed to sleep! And she has been nursing many times a day since. My supply began to build rather quickly, and although my breasts do not feel as full as they used to and my let-down is nowhere near as strong, Anna seems quite contented. She even tells me "milky coming out!" It has been over three months now and our nursing is still going strong, almost as if we'd never stopped.

My local LLL Group was so supportive during my sickness and several of the women even brought dinners for my family, as did my wonderful playgroup and my fellow Sunday school and church members. I thank God every day for the return of this blessing. And now I can say I have truly overcome a breastfeeding obstacle I never would have imagined!

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