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Preparing for Surgery

Shawna Becene
Henrietta NY USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 23 No. 1, January-February 2006, pp. 13-14

Breastfeeding my daughter, Iris, is so important to me -- we've worked hard to maintain our nursing relationship. I've always planned to let Iris wean herself, which is why I was concerned when I found out that I had gallstones. My doctor referred me to an endocrine surgeon. When I met with him, he made it sound as though I didn't have any options; I needed to have my gallbladder taken out. When I asked if I could delay the surgery, he said I could for as long as I could handle the pain. Since he didn't seem to be in a rush, I wanted to put off the surgery for as long as I could.

After having a terrible gallbladder attack, I knew I couldn't wait much longer, so I set up an appointment to meet with the surgeon and talk with him about my breastfeeding concerns. I was told that I had to "pump and dump" my milk for 24 hours after the operation. I felt like this was too much time away from nursing Iris. I asked my local LLL Leader, Kirsten, about "pumping and dumping" and she told me that I should be able to nurse after surgery as soon as I was alert. She also recommended that I have the anesthesiologist talk to the lactation consultant on the hospital's staff to write down my requests, then have the surgeon sign it.

When I spoke to the surgeon again, I told him what I learned. I was insistent about how important it was for Iris and me to reunite as soon as possible. He seemed receptive to the information and told me that nursing should not be a problem before or after the surgery. To make sure that everyone knew my plans, he told me to talk with the charge nurse at the hospital. The charge nurse told me that she couldn't say for certain whether or not nursing before and after surgery would be a problem since she didn't know who would be working on the day of the surgery, but she didn't think it would be a concern. I was reassured by everyone's confidence and willingness to work with me.

When I asked for more information on the medication they would be using during the surgery, the surgeon referred me to an obstetric anesthesiologist at a clinic in the hospital. I left a message and was surprised when a nurse called me back and gave me the home telephone number of the anesthesiologist, telling me to call him that night.

When I talked to him on the phone, he answered all of my questions and explained how the medications worked. He also confirmed that the information I had received from my La Leche League Leader was correct. He was positive and friendly and even offered to speak with the person who would be administering the medication during surgery to leave specific instructions regarding my case. He told me his recommendation for the drug I was to receive during surgery and I wrote it down to double -- check it with the anesthesiologist before the operation. I ended the call with a deep appreciation for the dedicated medical staff that I encountered. It was a relief no one had even suggested weaning.

In preparation for the surgery, I pumped enough milk for Iris to have during the time we would be apart. The surgery was scheduled to take place during my husband's vacation so that he could care for and support both our baby and me.

When the day arrived, Iris was with me until I was taken to the prep area. We relaxed and nursed on the hospital bed. The anesthesiologist and her team came to talk to me and reassure me that everything would be okay. Also, as promised, the lactation consultant arrived to tell me that she would be back after surgery to show me how to position and latch on Iris in a way that wouldn't be painful. I was so happy to have her there to support me and also educate other staff members.

My husband took our daughter home during the surgery, but came back as soon as it was over. When I woke up, they were both there beside me. It took a while before I could hold her, but, as planned, Iris nursed as soon as I was ready.

Normally, a person who has this type of surgery has to stay in the hospital overnight. I was anxious and insisted that I not be apart from my family through the night. Since I was doing well, the doctor agreed to let me go home. The careful planning paid off and Iris and I made it through the surgery experience with flying colors -- our breastfeeding relationship was not interrupted!

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