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"Finger" Milk

Krista Bonestroo
Fulton IL USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 21 No. 2, March-April 2004, p. 50

On the morning of April 12th, when I was 29 weeks pregnant, I was terrified to discover that I was bleeding. The diagnosis was placenta previa, which meant that the placenta was covering part of my cervix. The natural birth that I was hoping for was no longer an option. After a week in University of Iowa Hospitals, I was released, although I continued to bleed for the remainder of my pregnancy. I made it to the date of my scheduled cesarean, which was May 29th. I was 36 weeks and two days pregnant.

From the doctor's standpoint, the cesarean birth went extremely well because I lost very little blood and my placenta disconnected from my uterus easily. From my standpoint, the whole experience was a nightmare. Even though I had prepared by reading books and talking with other mothers who had cesareans, it was a very frightening procedure.

Micah Scott Bonestroo was born at 12:44 pm in Clinton, Iowa weighing five pounds and 10 ounces, but I do not remember seeing him right after birth. Apparently, I kissed him before the doctors and nurses took him to the nursery, but I don't remember it because of the medications I received for nausea. I awoke some time later and was taken to my postpartum room where I learned that Micah was having difficulty breathing and would be taken to the University of Iowa Hospitals via helicopter. I remember seeing my precious little one inside some sort of carrier attached to various tubes. I was only able to touch his cheek after the helicopter transporter was persuaded by my tears. She initially said "no" because she wanted to "get going."

I spent the next two days about seventy-five miles away from my newborn, which was torturous. My only comfort was that my husband, Scott, was with Micah. I began to pump my milk and sent a little bit of colostrum with my husband so that Micah could have it when he was ready. Thankfully, due to the donor milk program in Iowa City, Micah never received formula. Scott was able to feed him using a finger feeder, which in the hospital amounted to a syringe with a tube taped to his finger.

The day after his birth, Micah turned a significant corner and began to breathe much better. He remained in the hospital for a total for 10 days, though, so that he could receive antibiotics and be monitored.

I tried to breastfeed him the day I got to Iowa City, but didn't have much luck. Most of the time, he would not even latch-on, so I continued to pump and finger-feed him. Little did I know, this is how he would be fed for his first six weeks.

Once I got home, the breastfeeding educator in our local hospital gave me a Hazelbaker FingerFeeder, which proved to be much more efficient than the makeshift version the hospital used. My 35-month-old, Karynna, coined the phrase "finger milk," so that is what we all called it. I think she thought the milk actually came out of our fingers!

I continued to offer my breast to Micah at every feeding, but he just did not know how to latch on. Then, Scott or I would give him "finger milk" and then I would pump. It was a very time-consuming and frustrating process. On one particular day, I had a "mommy melt-down" and realized that I spent two hours each day just in pump time. That did not even include cleaning the pump parts! I was exhausted and felt sad that I was not able to spend very much time mothering Karynna and my 22 month-old, Josiah. I tried everything THE BREASTFEEDING ANSWER BOOK suggested (and more), including the nipple shields, but nothing seemed to work for us.

Finally, around his due date of June 24th, Micah began nursing occasionally. It took about two more weeks before he was totally nursing. What a relief! I knew that we could do it. It just took a lot of patience and persistence! Although this was a very challenging time, I feel proud of the fact that I stuck with it and that he is now a healthy, breastfed four-month-old.

We definitely did not have the ideal start, but we are proof that breastfeeding can still work even when things are not perfect in the beginning. I am so thankful for the support I received from my husband, my La Leche League Leaders and friends, as well as my mother, who was a Leader many years ago.

Editor's note: An error was corrected in the online version of this article, at the author's request.

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