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Triumphs in Breastfeeding

Lada S. Marx
Fullerton CA USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 12 No. 2, March-April 2004, pp. 55-6

My son, Alex, was a happy baby. But, when he was 22 months old, he got third degree burns over 10 percent of his body from pouring concentrated sulfuric acid in his lap. We had to wait three weeks for his skin grafting surgery, and during that time, he refused everything but my breast. I wondered if this would change after his surgery and how I would continue breastfeeding him.

Alex endured a four hour surgery on a Wednesday morning. Immediately following, he was sent to the intensive care unit and I wasn’t able to see him until 11:30 pm that night. As I approached his bed, I was shocked to see him tied up in a grotesque position, bent double, with his feet tied to the corner of his crib above his head. Some of the skin grafts were on his backside and groin and could not touch the mattress. His hands were also tied to the sides of the crib. How would I nurse him in that position?

I knew I had to try. I knelt down on a stool, draped my body across the top of the crib, and put my breast by his mouth. He latched on immediately. When he was finished, I asked the nurse to remove the IV, as I did not want the sugar water to interfere with Alex’s appetite. She complied and offered to come and get me from the room I was sleeping in down the hall whenever Alex woke up.

Each time the nurse came for me, Alex was awake and wanting to breastfeed. At 3 am, when he didn’t want to go back to sleep, I stayed with him for over two hours singing songs and telling stories. When I left the intensive care unit around 5:30 am, I went to Alex’s nurse to thank her for being so helpful. Instead, she was the one thanking me. While I was breastfeeding and comforting my son, she was able to get a lot of work done. She told me that babies in intensive care usually cry all night and prevent her from focusing on other duties. Keeping a baby from crying and squirming, especially in situations with skin grafts, is important. If a baby is crying and struggling, a graft can fall off because nothing is holding it down.

Two days after surgery, Alex had his first bowel movement. I was nervous because the surgeon warned me that fecal matter on skin grafts can cause them to slough off. All I could do was hope that, because Alex was only ingesting my milk, the fecal matter would not cause infection.

One of the nurses at the hospital had told me that I couldn’t possibly exclusively breastfeed a burned baby. Apparently, babies with healing skin grafts need twice as many calories as usual. Since Alex weighed 33 pounds, that meant he needed the same amount of calories as a 66 pound child. No wonder why he wanted to breastfeed every 10 minutes.

Doctors and nurses were regularly checking on Alex and often commented on how quickly the grafts were growing. I had no trouble producing enough milk for my healing son, and his bowel movements didn’t seem to be affecting the healing process. Then, we were thrown a curve ball.

We found out that there was a sepsis epidemic raging in the section of the hospital that Alex was staying in. The adult roommates (both burn victims) that Alex had previously shared a room with were affected by the epidemic. One had already died, the other was quite sick. I was never more frightened in my life. My husband and I watched our son as he slept. That was all we could do.

With the help of many doctors and nurses, Alex made a complete recovery. At the time, I didn’t know it, but my milk and helped him heal and fight infection. The quantity and quality of protein in human milk is more than ample to meet the needs of a child who has skin grafts. It also makes the child resistant to deadly infections.

Alex weaned when he was four-and-a-half years old. I’m so glad that I decided to breastfeed him as an infant. I’m also glad that I was determined to continue our breastfeeding relationship when he was in the hospital and needed my milk the most.

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