Often it is hard to think of breastfeeding in the midst of all the chaos that may accompany baby arriving. Here is the story of a persistent lactator.
Kathryn Skye, my third child, was born into a very difficult scenario – unknown to me she was hurtling towards massive brain injury. Although I had been to many births, had seen many newborns, and was well aware of normal baby behaviour, when she was different, I chose to listen to all those around who calmed me down, rather than follow my gut instincts.
What happened next was a case of ‘don’t worry’ doesn’t work – when you have something serious happening and no one else is paying attention . .
Kathryn gradually went from being unwilling to open her eyes and being dopey, to not being able to wake up to not really even suckling in her comatose state. Along the way the change in cry and the agitation and the fever were all explained away – this lead to eventually (at two weeks of age) her fitting and the paediatrician finally deigning to see her – to see that there was actually a problem.
Meeting him at the hospital and having her transferred across to the major one and out of his care – descended this family into horror as baby nearly died. Life passed in a haze of catastrophe and eventually the beginning of healing dawned. The breastfeeding was the key in my eye – something I could do. The hospital care was of strangers and whilst I had been willing her to live, the battle raged internally as more brain damage was happening. Breastfeeding was something that, were she to survive, she would need to start well to recover.
I went from engorged breasts so I could hardly move (note no mastitis as back then we were given very sensible and time honoured advice – DEFINITELY NOTHING COLD APPLIED – we went under a hot shower and expressed enough to make life bearable and waited for the demand and supply process to normalise). I was overly supplied initially with milk – as I kept trying to engage her – and all the let downs from the beginning of the process increased supply. I had saved a lot of the milk I had expressed when she was too ill to feed – and this was waiting in small plastic bags in the freezer. Invaluable for when she needed the colostrum rich milk that had started the process – when she was too ill to use it. This was tube fed to her.
The fact that I had successfully fed my first two sons for over a year each meant that I had skills in handling breastfeeding. With my second – who was bottle fed my milk from three weeks of age as I had chosen to keep my teaching acupuncturists job – I had developed a great relationship with expressing and also how to build and stabilise supply. When Kathryn was too sick to contemplate suckling I had gotten a breast pump in (none available in the babies hospital – however did they expect the babies to survive without their mother’s lifeline?).
Eventually after the initial crisis, she was no longer on a naso gastric tube, when she became more well it was decided that we would try actual feeding again – BUT she wouldn’t suckle from me. The doctor, the nurses, her dad – all commented on her strong suck when she had their fingers in her mouth – but she would have nothing whatsoever to do with my body – nipple or finger – as though she knew that my agenda was to heal her and quite possibly she may on other levels have liked the idea of passing on – away from such a damaged entry and life awaiting her.
Not on my shift . . . so I stretched my awake times to whatever was necessary.
She could always suck and swallow – many in similar circumstances can’t.
Trying to milk oneself whilst baby is still critical is something few have to endure – it was hard and as it was not working out, I decided that one last try – and then I would give up till after she came home and I would start breastfeeding up again . . . She then took 40 mls (many test weighs as how else do you know whether there has been much happen?). It often happened that when I gave up what I wanted – a shift was able to happen for her.
She then started feeding and the gradual process back to apparently normality happened.
What made the most difference?
1) Me having breastfed successfully before for over 2 ½ years was a great help.
2) Having also had a bottle/expressing pattern established meant I was not learning new skills – not that there was anyone there to show me anyway – as ‘medical’/crisis management was all the hospital was about. The maternal content/connection was not seen as important.
3) Me having access to the staff cafeteria – as how was I as the mother to make the milk? The social worker was great that way. This is really the only help I got – no one suggested that I stay in the hospital with her – let alone continue breastfeeding.
4) Me being a bonded and very belligerent mother – what were they all thinking – to my mind this was a whole child who needed the very best of care – not just of her physical body – although what else would help her heal but breast milk? On reflection, I expect all thought she was there to die.
They did not bargain on a kiwi mother who was hell bent on saving her at whatever cost . .
Is not great when breastfeeding and the last feed is now on the floor a few feet over your shoulder . . . or worse – seeping in through all clothes as she had regurgitated the lot down my front . . . the chiropractor was my godsend – and even though a treatment only seemed to last five days initially I figured that was another near week of breastfeeding. She gradually outgrew this problem – I figured it was a consequence of having had a naso gastric tube for a few weeks and weakening the sphincter . . .
A Few Months Later
As she could not even hold her head up at three months – even a little and was so very floppy – and was not moving but was stacking the weight on – it was a very different life than what I had expected with my third child. Persevering was all I could do. Then she got sick. She contracted broncholitis. Not a good thing. She was just so ill – and of course completely in a waking coma state with the profound brain injury she had been left with.
She was very ill – I went to see the specialist who diagnosed her and suggested that I took her back to the hospital – whatever was I to do? They did not support breastfeeding and again – I knew if this child was to survive it was through my breasts – and my body supporting her. I elected to stay home – where at least there was decent food and I had independence and no other ill babies to give her more diseases – and quiet when she was not screaming – I had just come out of a ward full of reflux screamers for a month and I was not keen on revisiting that. . .
Feeding a baby with brain injury, doped up on anticonvulsants, who now can’t breathe well, let alone suckle was a trial. I expressed most of the milk out and then when she was sucking for comfort there was not much there – and she could cope with the breathing and the swallowing easier. She did not get dehydrated as I was being a stubborn mother and knew that her lifeline was in my breasts . . . she recovered – although sleeping was sacrificed. This went on for years later as Kathryn refused to sleep – she screamed if ever she did fall exhausted asleep.
Breastfeeding was her salvation – every time she was ill – and she visited various states – she always had good nutrition and whatever else my body deemed to be important.
Later – a bonded mother and a slightly engaged baby
When was she weaned? When she realised this was something that was special between us – no one else – and this was two and a half years of age . . .