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Trusting My Instincts

Ana M. Hotaling
Ann Arbor MI USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 21 No. 4, July-August 2004, p. 132

I'd always envisioned my first Mother's Day to be a joyous celebration of motherhood with my baby and my mother, who'd be enjoying her first Mother's Day as a grandmother. We did spend that special day together, but it was anything but joyous. Delirious with fever, I was rushed to the local hospital, where the attending physician promptly diagnosed me with acute mastitis. Once my fever was down and I was somewhat lucid, the doctor explained that breastfeeding my eight-week-old son had caused this condition, that my milk ducts had become plugged and infected, and that I had to immediately stop nursing. Exhausted and in pain, I never thought to obtain a second opinion. I took his word and immediately weaned my baby, Michael. He didn't take readily to formula. He suffered hives and various allergic reactions before we finally found a formula that he could tolerate. I was grateful when he switched to sippy cups, as I truly abhorred cleaning the bottles, nipples, and rings.

When I learned that I was pregnant again, I was thrilled and also apprehensive. The last thing I wanted was to experience the hot, sore redness and worse, the fever that I'd gone through before. I'd attended a breastfeeding class. I'd read books. I'd seen other mothers nursing. Why couldn't I?

One of the nurse-midwives at my obstetrician's office suggested that I contact the local La Leche League for assistance. I was a bit unsure about it at first. The instructor at my breastfeeding class had taught us how to breastfeed by demonstrating with her three-year-old daughter, and I wasn't sure if a whole room of nursing mothers was going to teach me any better. However, I decided I didn't have anything to lose and went to my first La Leche League meeting when I was six months pregnant.

It was one of the best decisions I've ever made. All of the Leaders were warm, friendly, and compassionate, especially Mary Kay. Mary Kay first explained that with mastitis, one of the worst things to do is stop nursing. Continued breastfeeding helps prevent further clogging of the milk ducts. She explained about how hot and cold compresses can help relieve the pain, and she introduced me to the concept of using cabbage leaves to help relieve engorgement, something I never knew. With the use of a doll, she demonstrated different nursing positions and then had me try them out. Mary Kay also encouraged me to talk to the other mothers at the LLL meeting and ask about any tricks and tips they had to share. Most importantly, though, Mary Kay discovered that both of my nipples were inverted. She explained how Michael may not have always latched on correctly, a factor which may have significantly contributed to that memorable Mother's Day several years earlier. Mary Kay obtained a pair of breast shells for me and instructed me on how to wear them inside my bra during my last two months of pregnancy to draw out the nipples in preparation for nursing.

I continued attending the LLL meetings as my pregnancy advanced, and there was never a meeting at which I didn't learn something new. I discovered, for instance, that the underwire maternity and nursing bras I'd worn the first time around might have also contributed to the plugged ducts by exerting pressure on my lower breasts, and that front soft carriers, such as Snuglis, might have also put undue pressure on my breasts. I learned, to my horror, that my search for the best bottle nipple and pacifier may have led to nipple confusion for Michael, yet another possible factor in my mastitis.

When it was finally time to give birth. I felt I could handle anything. That feeling lasted all of three days, until my milk came in and my breasts were bowling ball hard. Mary Kay came running over, cabbage leaves in hand, and watched to make sure I was expressing the milk correctly, that baby Nicholas was latching on properly, and that I was getting the rest I needed. As Nicholas grew from red, wrinkly newborn to chubby baby to sturdy toddler, Mary Kay and the other La Leche League Leaders were there with encouragement and support. I soon learned that mothers-to-be and mothers newer than me were turning to me, of all people, for advice on nursing. It was as if I'd come full circle.

Nicholas, a happy, eager nurser, weaned himself when he was two-and-a-half years old, and I sadly missed our close nursing relationship. As both of my boys grew, I couldn't help but notice that Nicholas, who was breastfed, never had an ear infection while poor Michael, weaned so abruptly at such a young age, had so many that by age 10 months, he needed surgery to have drainage tubes placed in both ears.

I am now nursing 10-month-old Jaeson, another eager boy who prefers nursing to solids and who seems to be following in his older brother's extended nursing footsteps. I don't know how long Jaeson will nurse. I do know, however, that if it weren't for Mary Kay, Pam, and La Leche League, the beautiful experience of nursing would never have been mine. For this I'm forever grateful.

Last updated Tuesday, October 24, 2006 by njb.
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