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Finding Our Way

Marie MacPherson
Mankato MN USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 24 No. 3, May-June 2007, pp. 110-112

Becoming a new parent is incredibly exciting, but is also full of difficult choices. I'm so grateful that breastfeeding was the obvious answer to how I could feed, care for, and nurture my baby, Grace, throughout her first few months of life.

My husband, Ryan, and I were expecting our baby during my final semester of college. As we weighed our priorities, we decided that fostering the mother/infant breastfeeding bond was so important to us that I would delay finishing college so that Grace could spend her first few months at the breast with me.

I was very relieved to spend my days not rushing around campus and writing papers, but sitting peacefully with my daughter and learning her ways. This extra time was also vital in our relationship when, after Grace turned two weeks old, I began to notice that she had frequent spasms in her belly where she would tense up. She wailed uncontrollably during these episodes.

This didn't seem to be normal newborn behavior. Extremely worried and frustrated, I would call my husband at work. I called friends who had children of their own. I called my mother. I called my La Leche League Leaders. No one seemed to have any idea what I was talking about, and of course, Grace never had these spasms when anyone else was around.

During the days and nights when she didn't have the spasms, Grace seemed completely normal to me. She was learning to nurse pretty well, gaining weight adequately, and was hitting all of her developmental milestones. Finally, I decided to take Grace to the pediatrician for a diagnosis. Our doctor asked me a number of questions, which I found difficult to answer. Did she cry a lot? Does she spit up a lot? Does her breath smell? I had very little experience with other newborn babies, so I had no one with whom to compare Grace. Sure, she seemed to cry a lot to me. I'd never had a baby before, so of course she seemed to spit up a lot. And doesn't every baby's breath smell? I answered yes to all of the questions.

Grace was diagnosed with acid reflux disorder and was given a prescription medication to be administered once daily. Ryan and I faithfully dosed out Grace's medicine, but every time we gave it to her, something inside of me didn't feel quite right. In general, my husband and I try to avoid medications, and giving something so strong to one so little didn't seem right. And to make things more complicated, the spasms continued.

The doctor had told me that the medicine should cause improvement in two to three days. After about a week, nothing had changed. Multiple times a day Grace continued to have spasms. We discontinued the medication after having reconsidered the questions the doctor had asked me during the appointment. I started to wonder if Grace might be allergic to something in my diet.

I had already learned that motherhood requires sacrifice and many decisions, so after Grace turned one month old, I began experimenting with cutting certain foods out of my diet. I cut out all dairy products for two weeks and there was no change in her behavior. Then I cut out wheat, and then soy. She still had spasms and cried frequently. And yet, in every other regard she seemed like a healthy baby girl.

We had been in contact with our doctor quite often during Grace's first few months of life. With no true solution to her problem at hand, our pediatrician suggested an invasive procedure. Grace would have to swallow a special liquid, which would show up in an x-ray. In this way, the doctor could be sure that all of Grace's digestive organs were functioning properly.

We were discussing the implications of going through this procedure while I was nursing Grace. During the conversation Ryan casually mentioned that she sure did make a lot of noise while she breastfed. I agreed and it seemed to me she always had. I began to reflect on some experiences I had had among other breastfeeding mothers, especially at the La Leche League meetings I'd been to. No other baby made as much noise as Grace while at the breast.

We immediately called our pediatrician and cancelled the procedure. Then, we got on the phone with the lactation consultants at the hospital and my La Leche League Leader. Could it be that the daily spasms were nothing more than inhaled air from all of Grace's gulping? If so, what could we do about it?

Both sources agreed that our little girl might not have a disease or illness causing her condition, but rather she might be suffering from a lot of pressure from swallowing air during nursing sessions. I mentioned that we had bought and used some over the counter gas drops, but that they didn't seem to help. They suggested to me that instead of using the drops, I should try feeding Grace at only one breast per feeding. I should feed her more frequently, but repeat the same breast twice before switching to the other side.

So it began. I'd nurse Grace on my left side. An hour and a half later, I nursed her on my left side again. Then, at the next feeding time, I'd nurse her on my right side. Not long after, when she was hungry again, I'd nurse her on my right side again.

We noticed immediate improvement in Grace's spasms. During the second feeding on the first side, Grace was easily able to handle the little bit of milk that trickled out. She swallowed without making gulping sounds and inhaling air. I hadn't known that my milk ejection reflex was so very strong. I'd never nursed a baby before and had no experience to measure it against. I also began to hand-express some milk on the full side before trying to feed Grace so the force of the let-down wouldn't overwhelm her.

Now, at 11 months old, Grace is able to handle my strong let-downs. She chugs away happily and nurses at both sides in one sitting. She's been sick very little, which I attribute to my milk and staying at home with her. With only three classes (and three semesters) left to finish my degree, I've been very blessed to be supported by Ryan so I can nurse when Grace needs me. Our daughter's first few months of life were filled with difficult decisions, but I'm so thankful that, even though it began with a problem, breastfeeding has also been the solution to how to best care for my daughter.

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