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The Comfort of Breastfeeding

Amanda Ratliff
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25, No. 3, 2008, pp. 18-19

We often hear how breastfeeding comforts the baby, but my recent experience illustrates, I believe, that breastfeeding can be just as comforting to the mother. While maintaining the nursing relationship and nourishing my son physically and emotionally, I breastfed through my recent surgery and hospital stay. I discovered that, with a little planning and support, breastfeeding can continue in almost any situation, and it was the breastfeeding that made this mother and baby feel comforted within a stressful situation outside the normal routine.

I found out postpartum with my third child, Ian, that I needed a total abdominal hysterectomy as well as paravaginal repair and posterior repair, including bladder surgery. My first thought was how would I continue nursing throughout the process since my son was only four months old at the time, and none of my three children had ever been separated from me. My first obstacle was "pumping and dumping": my obstetrician and anesthesiologist told me I needed to dump my milk for 24 hours after surgery to eliminate the general anesthetic in my milk. Although I had milk frozen for emergency situations, I came home to verify that statement with a La Leche League Leader and found that breastfeeding can continue as soon as the mother is in recovery and alert enough to handle her baby.

I called anesthesiology with that information and, later, one anesthesiologist told me I had "changed his life," and he now advises breastfeeding mothers to nurse their babies immediately after surgery. What a breakthrough and comfort for those mothers and babies who need each other! I made sure also to have the hospital lactation consultant on hand in case I needed an advocate with the doctors and nurses.

After all my planning was in place, I was still a bit nervous about separating from my baby for the surgery, not knowing exactly what would happen and if indeed I would be alert enough to nurse him immediately after. I wasn't feeling well after surgery but was reunited with my baby boy about three hours later. My supportive husband drove back and forth from hospital to home whenever I needed to be with my baby, and Ian slept with me in my hospital bed for four nights. As in any different situation, Ian nursed more than usual for reassurance. And I was just as happy to settle into our normal nursing routine in an unfamiliar place.

We went home from the hospital having used very few bottles of my milk and without disturbing our special relationship. I thought I was out of the woods and felt great -- but 11 days after surgery an artery ruptured, and I needed to go back to the operating room for emergency surgery. This time I was scared and had not planned in advance. My husband tells me my only instruction to him was "no formula." Fortunately the repair surgery only lasted a little more than an hour, and Rick brought baby Ian to me in the recovery room. I was also fortunate to have to stay in the hospital only overnight so I was able to return home quickly to my two older children. During my second stay, the hospital staff was less than accommodating for Ian's need to be with me, but my supportive husband worked it out with them so I didn't have to deal with additional stress.

I couldn't lift Ian for almost four weeks, so he was brought to me everywhere, and our nursing bond was never disturbed. (Fortunately my husband is a professor so had the summer off!) Today Ian is 12 months old, and breastfeeding has prevailed. It was the only constant in a less than desirable situation. Breastfeeding provided emotional stability for me when nothing else could; and I believe it did the same for my baby.

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