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A Mother's Trials

Nancy P.
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 18 No. 2, March-April 2001, pp. 52-53.

.While I was pregnant with my first child, I decided to breastfeed, although I didn't know much about it. For my 34th birthday, when I was five months pregnant, I requested books on breastfeeding and childcare. Family and friends bought me many books. When I began reading the breastfeeding books, I was somewhat disappointed. They seemed quite obscure and described relaxation techniques, cabbage leaves, breast massage, herbal teas, and other things that seemed very unusual to me. I knew that these books were not for me, but I still needed a good source of information.

Then one day I received THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING in the mail from my cousin, Kelly, who had just had her first child, Casey, and was successfully breastfeeding. She said that it was the best book she had read and when she learned that I wanted to nurse my baby, she knew that I needed a copy. As I read this very excellent book, I was reassured that breastfeeding did not require any yoga positions, herbal teas, or cabbage leaves. As I prepared for my nursing experience, I absorbed as much of the information as possible. Then I read about local La Leche league Series Meetings. I looked on the Internet and found that there was a local Group near my home in New York. I sent an email to one of the Leaders who sent me a schedule and invited me to attend the next meeting.

When I was about eight months pregnant, I attended my first meeting. I was so happy to meet breastfeeding mothers, expectant mothers, and knowledgeable, helpful Leaders. All three of the Leaders gave me their home phone numbers and insisted that I call them if I had any problems or questions. I finally felt informed about breastfeeding, empowered to begin, and in good company.

My first child, Sarah Rose, was born on March 22, 2000. When I tried to feed her in the hospital she sucked a little, then let go a few times, and then lost interest. I asked for help from the hospital's lactation nurse, but she wasn't much help at all. She told me that my nipples were a little inverted, and that was all the information she had to offer, but Sarah and I just kept on trying. She continued to suck a little and then let go for the two days we were in the hospital and during the first few days we were at home.

At home, my mother and my mother-in-law took turns helping us out for the first few weeks. Since they couldn't help feed the baby, they changed her diapers all the time. After a few days, I expected engorged breasts, leaking milk, or some other sign that my milk had come in. No such signs came, only very painful nipple soreness.

When Sarah was about one week old, I started to worry that she wasn't getting enough milk. I called my pediatrician who said I should monitor her urine output. Since I had two helpers in the "changing department" it was hard to monitor the small amounts of urine in Sarah's diapers. The doctor told me to watch for signs of dehydration such as lethargy, no tears, dry mouth, or a sunken soft spot. Sarah was sleeping most of the time, but she didn't have any of the other signs.

At this point, if I hadn't been so determined to breastfeed, and so informed about the benefits, I think I would have gone out to buy some formula. My mother and mother-in law were nervous because neither of them had any experience with breastfeeding. My nipples were hurting more than I can describe because Sarah hadn't yet learned how to latch on properly. I didn't think that my milk had come in, and I was very worried that Sarah wasn't getting enough nutrition. I knew I had to keep letting her nurse, even if I didtit think she was getting much milk, and it hurt me terribly. I was setting an alarm every two hours and trying my best to nurse her.

I called one of my local LLL Leaders, Caroline. She was so reassuring, concemed, and wonderful. She helped me with all my questions and concerns, and reassured me that sore nipples do heal. She also called back a few days later to see how we were doing.

My first visit to the pediatrician was a happy day. Sarah had gained over a pound in ten days! This confirmed that she was getting enough milk even though it wasn't evident to me that my milk had come in. He said she was healthy and doing fine. Now I just had to deal with the nipple pain. I tried everything I had read, about--different positions, using lanolin, leaving my breasts exposed to the air, and I even tried the cabbage leaves. Nothing seemed to help, but I was determined to continue breastfeeding.

My husband decided to start reading THE WOMANLY ART OF BREASTFEEDING and promptly informed me that I shouldn't be experiencing any pain, and I must have the baby positioned wrong. Since I had read and re-read the information on positioning so many times I felt this wasn't the case. I started to pump a little milk from my left breast (that was the most painful one) before I tried to feed Sarah. I thought this might help letdown my milk. I started to think that maybe I had a breast infection. I went to see my doctor, who examined my breasts and said they were fine despite the soreness. Sarah was two weeks old when she finally learned how to latch on correctly. Then I understood how the term "latch-on" originated. She had a really good mouthful of breast and did not come off the breast easily. Before this she would just suck and release repeatedly. Soon all the pain had vanished, and we were off to a terrific nursing relationship. If I hadn't had the excellent LLLI book and a fantastic, concerned Leader, I would not have made it through my first 20 days.

A couple of weeks later, trouble came knocking again. I have a digestive disorder, ulcerative colitis, which affects my intestines. It hadn't flared up in over five years. When Sarah was six weeks old, I started to have colitis symptoms again. I went to a doctor who said the standard treatment for colitis was medication. I told him that breastfeeding was essential to me and I wouldn't take medications that would get into my milk. He looked up the various medications used to treat colitis and informed me that they all pass into breast milk. I decided that I would forgo treatment and continue to nurse Sarah. When Sarah was six months old, I went for a colonoscopy to determine exactly how the colitis was affecting me. My doctor said that my bowel and intestines were in very bad shape, and I had no choice but to take the medication. I told him I would need some time to wean my daughter. The doctor said it was an emergency, and I had to begin the treatments immediately.

I visited my pharmacist for data on the medication that was prescribed for me. The information I obtained led me to believe I could not nurse my baby while taking this drug. I once again contacted my LLL Leader, Caroline, for help. I explained my medical situation and told her that I needed information on emergency weaning. She said that she could help with emergency weaning but first she wanted to consult a book, Medications and Mothers' Milk, by Thomas W. Hale, PhD, to better understand the drug I had to take. She read the entire section to me including a description of the safety rating the book gave the drug. This was the first comprehensive data I was able to find. Caroline suggested that I speak to Sarah's pediatrician to discuss the effects of the drug. She also photocopied the relevant pages of the book and mailed them to me.

After days of reading about the medication, I decided that I would continue breastfeeding while I took the medication since I learned that only a very small amount is excreted in breast milk. My doctor and I are now closely monitoring Sarah's health while I breastfeed and take this medication.

If my LLL Leader had not helped me in the first few days, I would have never been able to begin nursing my daughter. And if it weren't for her assistance locating clinical data on breastfeeding and medication, I would not have been able to make an informed decision on continuing to nurse while taking medication. LLL has provided me with unparalleled information and support.

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