Breastfeeding Makes Such a Difference
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 18 No. 2, March-April 2001, pp. 51-52
I breastfed my first two babies, so when my son, Marten, came along, I knew I would breastfeed him, too. Marten was born at home at 4:30 in the morning. During delivery, his shoulders were stuck for a few minutes, so at birth he needed a couple puffs of oxygen, and then he was fine. Before the midwives left that morning, they noticed he was breathing a bit faster than normal. When they returned that evening for a routine visit, they were concerned because his breathing was still fast, and we went to the hospital for a checkup.
He had a chest x-ray that showed his lungs were clear, and he also had an oxygen saturation test in which a device that clipped onto his toe used light to measure the oxygen level in his blood. The level of oxygen in his blood was a bit low, but when the doctor came in and noticed how healthy and strong our nine pound, thirteen ounce baby was, it seemed reasonable to dismiss the oxygen readings. So we went home reassured that everything was all right. Marten nursed and got lots of my milk.
We went to the midwife when he was eight days old and learned he had gained plenty of weight. The midwives were concerned because his breathing was still fast and looked a bit labored. Things didn't seem quite right to me, either. I had noticed Marten's breathing was obviously odd and the way he nursed was a real challenge. I would have to latch him on repeatedly, up to 20 or 30 times during a feeding. It wasn't because of poor latch, either. I'm glad I was already experienced at breastfeeding, because I may not have succeeded otherwise.
The midwife made an appointment for the next afternoon with a pediatrician at the hospital. Marten had the oxygen test again and an electrocardiogram which pointed to a heart problem. By evening, we were seeing a pediatric cardiologist an hour away in Toronto. He did an echocardiogram, an ultrasound of the heart.
We were shocked by the results! Marten was born with such major heart defects that he needed to go immediately to the Hospital for Sick Children where he had the first of three open-heart surgeries when he was 13 days old. They told us that the way his heart was when he was born, he would have been lucky to live two more weeks. The hospital staff was surprised that he had done so well for nine days already.
Two days before his surgery he was getting weaker, and they started tube-feeding my milk to him. He would suck on my little finger for comfort. After his surgery he was still tube-fed, but because of all the medications and the nature of his operation, there were restrictions at first as to the volume of milk he could have. The nurses mentioned the possibility of adding some high calorie formula to my milk, but weren't surprised that I refused this. Instead I decided I would pump off the milk from the beginning of the pumping, and save the milk higher in fat and calories that comes at the end of a feeding to give to Marten. Since I was still nursing his older sister as well, I had plenty of milk and was always able to provide Marten with the freshest milk possible. Marten recovered well and nine days after his first surgery, we went home.
When he was three-and-a-half months old, it was time for his second surgery. By then, we knew more about what to expect and I had recovered from childbirth, so this experience was a bit easier to handle. The most reassuring thing for us was that aside from his heart condition, we knew our baby was very healthy and strong. At three-and-a-half months, he weighed 16 pounds. The nurses told me that most of their babies with cardiac problems have a lot of trouble gaining weight. Doctors would review Marten's chart on the door outside his room and then walk in, look at our chubby baby, and be very surprised that this thriving baby had been born with a severe heart defect.
Now Marten is one year old. He walks confidently around the furniture, has tons of energy, takes no medication, and weighs an incredible 26 pounds. He is not developmentally delayed in any area at all - something we were concerned about. We recently went to a Cardiac Support Group meeting and I was disturbed to hear other parents talking about the difficulty their children with cardiac conditions had with weight gain. Of the group, Marten had the most serious heart complication by far! So now I am convinced that breastfeeding has made a big difference! His third and, we hope, final surgery should be in about a year. I still plan to be giving him the most miraculous food nature has to help him recover and continue to do so well.