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Breastfeeding in the Hospital

Carla Bosman
Dunwoody, GA, USA
From: New Beginnings, Vol. 29 No. 5-6, 2009, p. 31

When my father was admitted to the intensive care unit (the ICU) on Saturday for complications with his diabetes, my two daughters and I quickly jumped on a plane from Atlanta to Houston so we could be close to family and help support my mother. Fortunately, my father seemed to improve with each passing day. Unfortunately, the following Wednesday night, I myself was also admitted to the ICU after experiencing a sudden onset of extreme chills, high fever, vomiting, chest pain, and low blood pressure. I don't think I had ever been in so much discomfort in my life and I was scared, more so because my husband had stayed behind in Atlanta to work so he wasn't with me.

I continued to breastfeed my 23-month-old from the onset of my symptoms, since it seemed the only thing to really comfort us both, as I lay seemingly helpless in bed. Whatever illness I might have, she would certainly be receiving the antibodies to fight this sickness, or perhaps wouldn't get sick, or get as sick, since she was still an avid nursling.

I suspected I might have the flu but, to my surprise, the test results showed I had pneumonia. Since my blood pressure was so low I was admitted to the hospital for further testing until the following morning. Overnight? I had never been away from my youngest for more than two hours and I began to panic. After my mother and sister comforted and assured me they would take care of my two daughters, I asked the nurse for a breast pump. The nurse wasn't sure she'd find one since the hospital did not have a maternity or obstetrics department. I calmly asked her if she could please try the pediatric department, as surely they would have one for breastfeeding mothers of hospitalized babies. To my relief, a small hand-held pump arrived an hour later. If my daughter couldn't breastfeed overnight at least I wanted her to have my milk. I knew most medications were compatible with breastfeeding and, if not, a suitable alternative drug would most likely be available. Plus, I did not want to add mastitis to the growing list of complications.

Within the same time frame, I was told I had a blood infection, too, and would need to stay for a few more days in the ICU. I was quickly given four different, strong antibiotics intravenously and was asked by both the doctors and nurses caring for me not to breastfeed or give my pumped breastmilk to my daughter for at least 14 days. Even having heard and read about similar requests from physicians through other breastfeeding mothers as a La Leche League Leader, I was not prepared for the strong emotions that I suddenly was feeling. I was almost speechless as my throat tightened with this news. I managed to mention I would be checking with my co-Leaders and my pediatrician, who was also a certified lactation consultant, about the medications. Luckily, although it was late in the evening, my wonderful co-Leader, Kathy, was able to recite information about each of the medications from her copy of Dr. Thomas Hale's book, Medications and Mothers' Milk. To my relief, with the information given to me, I felt it was safe to breastfeed while taking these specific medications. The following morning, my pediatrician also gave me the okay.

All was well. Thank goodness my husband was on his way from Atlanta.

Unfortunately, all three of my doctors, and every nurse assigned to me, questioned my decision. Each time, I relayed the information from my pediatrician and Dr. Thomas Hale's book. The current atmosphere with hospitals and liabilities certainly didn't help things. (It is cheaper for drug companies to say, "Don't take while breastfeeding" rather than do research to ascertain whether particular drugs are compatible with breastfeeding.)

Each time I was questioned, I needed to find more and more assurance within myself to stand my ground. No doubt these were excellent health professionals in their specific fields, but I suspected they lacked current breastfeeding information that I found through my LLL co-Leaders, Dr. Thomas Hale, and my lactation consultant/pediatrician. To add to this stress, when my husband arrived at the hospital, several nurses approached him to question my decision to continue breastfeeding while on the medications. Although my husband is very supportive of my breastfeeding and supported my educated decision, he was taken by surprise by this continuous questioning. Fortunately, after several requests by me to my physicians, I was released from the hospital seven days later to continue treatment at home in Atlanta.

Thank goodness for the solid support I already had in my breastfeeding support circle. I am feeling much better today and so are my breastfeeding toddler and family. I can only imagine the insecurities a new mother and father might feel in a similar situation. I hope my experience will help other breastfeeding mothers and mothers-to-be to seek out the up-to-date breastfeeding information that is available.

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