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Fitting Breastfeeding into Your Life

Judy Minami
Portland, Oregon, USA
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 36 No. 1, February-March 2000, p. 5

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

Another important factor in working with a mother with a chronic illness is helping her explore ways to fit breastfeeding into her life, so she can meet her baby's needs without compromising her own well- being. Alternatives and changes she makes in her everyday life may make nursing or caring for her baby less difficult. In some cases, depending on the symptoms and the mother's lifestyle, this may take some creative problem solving. Using the mother's knowledge of her disease and your expertise in breastfeeding may lead to some truly ingenious solutions. If these solutions feel right to the mother, if they are comfortable for her, physically and emotionally, solve the difficulty she is trying to overcome, and fit well into her daily life, then we can feel satisfied that they are right for her. If you don't understand something about the mother's illness, how the mother experiences symptoms, or how her illness affects her life, ask her.

When brainstorming about how to make breastfeeding more comfortable, begin by asking her which symptoms are most bothersome or make nursing difficult for her. For example, the mother with arthritis may have pain in her shoulders and hands, making it very difficult to hold the baby while she nurses. You could suggest that she set up a nursing area with lots of pillows to raise the baby and support her arms. She will need to experiment with the positioning of the pillows to find how and where to place them to her best advantage. Or maybe she can find a comfortable position in which to nurse while lying down.

Lying down to nurse may be an especially appropriate suggestion for a mother who is fatigued or where the safety of the baby may be compromised if the mother experiences symptoms of her disease unexpectedly. Mothers with inhibited or challenged mobility may be surprised at how beneficial it is to set up a spot ahead of time with everything they might need for the day. A pitcher of water or juice and a glass, a snack, lots of pillows, a place to lay baby down, clean diapers and a receptacle for dirty ones, baby wipes, a phone, something to read, and possibly a radio or the remote control for the television would help make it possible for a mother challenged by even the most severe symptoms to manage most of the day alone with her baby.

If you have difficulty finding practical solutions to meet the mother's needs, a Leader or a mother in the local Group who has also experienced the mother's illness or who has had experience helping other mothers with it may be able to provide additional suggestions. To find such a Leader, contact LLLI Headquarters and ask for names from LLL's specialties list of Leaders. It may help the mother to know that someone else has overcome the same obstacles. It gives her confidence that she, too, can realize her dream of nursing her baby.

By using active listening, common sense, and creativity, every Leader can assist a mother with a chronic illness. Working out the logistics of breastfeeding and daily baby care may take considerable time while the mother and the Leader work together to find solutions that are suited to both the mother's and baby's needs. But it can be satisfying to help this mother and watch her confidence and self-esteem grow along with her baby.

The mother with a chronic illness deserves a great deal of credit for her determination under sometimes overwhelming circumstances. Leaders who have the opportunity to help these mothers deserve the same.

Suggestions For Mothers With Specific Chronic Illnesses

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE or lupus), arthritis, or myasthenia gravis (MG)

Concerns: Weakness, joint pain, and swelling

Suggestions: Have adequate support for arms; nurse lying down. Have help in lifting baby if necessary. Baby carrier may take pressure off arms. Set up "nursing station" for times alone.

Medication(s): Most medications are compatible with breastfeeding. If the doctor recommends weaning, the Leader can contact the Professional Liaison Leader for information about specific drugs.

Adapted by the author from: "Helping Mothers with Chronic Illness," LEAVEN, July-August 1990, Vol. 26, No. 4.

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