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Cherished Gift

Melanie Coggins
Hamden CT USA
From NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 25, No. 3, 2008, pp. 26-28

For me, breastfeeding is a gift. Mothers who nurse their babies have the opportunity to connect with and meet the needs of their baby in ways no one else can. To me, this is priceless and precious. It means that I can nourish my daughter physically and emotionally by meeting her need to be comforted. I am thankful each day for the gift of breastfeeding.

Unfortunately, I did not have an ideal birth experience or early breastfeeding experience with either of my children. I became pregnant with my son, Michael, in the spring of 2002. The first half of the pregnancy went well as we prepared for our son to be born right around Christmas. Unfortunately, I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia at 28 weeks. At that point, I was put on bed rest and things quickly went downhill from there. I was visiting the doctor weekly and had a visiting nurse coming to my home to monitor my blood pressure. During this time, my mother-in-law passed away, which contributed to the stress and anxiety we were experiencing. I was put on blood pressure medication.

On November 1, I was admitted to the maternal special care unit. It was a Friday afternoon. By Saturday night, my doctors decided that I needed to be induced and given magnesium sulfate. I was hooked up to IVs and felt sick, as if I had the flu. My water finally broke early Monday morning and Michael was born at 33 weeks. He weighed four pounds, 11 ounces. I was able to hold him briefly and then he was taken to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). After some time, I was brought there, but then I had to return to the maternal special care unit. My blood pressure was still dangerously high and I was still on the magnesium sulfate.

The next morning, I was able to return to the NICU. Michael did not have any breathing or feeding issues. He did have trouble maintaining his body temperature and he was very jaundiced. At that point, I began working on nursing and pumping. I think that the delay in nursing him greatly contributed to Michael never learning to latch on. At the same time, the fact that I was pumping for him and providing him with my milk made me feel as though I was doing what I could to help my baby. It made me feel that I was connected to him because he was receiving milk from me.

He had not been ready to be born at 33 weeks and I felt satisfied that at the very least, he was still being nourished from my body even if he was being fed my milk in a bottle. When we got home, I worked with a lactation consultant, trying to teach him to latch on and nurse from my breast. Unfortunately, it was not to be.

I ended up pumping for 28 months. I am so proud that Michael received my milk for two years and four months. I never had to supplement with formula. I do have sadness and regret that I missed out on feeding him at the breast. When I was pumping for him, I made sure to snuggle him close while feeding him the bottle. He also slept with me at night.

Four years later, my daughter, Emma, was born. The first part of the pregnancy went well. At about 20 weeks, my blood pressure was elevated. I ended up on medication and my blood pressure stabilized. I had weekly doctor visits and ultrasounds every few weeks. At 35 weeks, I was confident. The doctor was also confident that I would last a few more weeks and decided to wait a week before doing my Group B strep test. Two days later, my water broke at home. I had to go right to the hospital as my Group B strep status was unknown and I needed to have an IV antibiotic right away. I also had an epidural with Emma to keep my blood pressure low. Emma was born at 35 weeks weighing five pounds and five ounces. This time, my husband and I insisted I be able to hold her for some time after her birth. When she was brought to the NICU, I quickly followed and spent a great deal of time in there with her. The next night she was able to room in with us and was also able to come home with us on Sunday morning. She did latch on a little in the hospital, but not consistently at each feeding. Also, her latch on was poor and she was not getting much milk. But I was determined that this baby would breastfeed—no other option was acceptable to me. I kept telling myself that she would nurse no matter how long it took.

I followed the advice of my lactation consultant and kept trying to teach Emma to latch on. I also read a great deal about breastfeeding. After a week or so, I began to use a nipple shield. I was so thrilled to have her nursing at the breast! She would suckle for over 40 minutes and then I would have to give her a bottle of expressed milk and then pump. It was difficult, but I was sure I would get her to nurse without the shield and without supplemental bottles of my milk.

Basically, I just kept trying. I would latch her on with the nipple shield and then take it off and attempt to latch her on again. Sometimes it would work and sometimes it would not. Finally, at about nine weeks, I got her to nurse without the shield. Unfortunately, her latch was incorrect and I was in incredible pain. It took a few more weeks, but we worked through it and I was able to nurse, pain-free, without any bottles to supplement. This was simply glorious for me! I had wanted to nurse my children so badly and this really was a dream come true.

We are still going strong at 13 months. As my baby girl grows, so does our nursing relationship. I love watching her drift off to sleep at the breast and I love when she lets go of my breast to babble at me, and then latches on again. Her words, undiscernible to others, speak volumes to me. I know that she is telling me how much she loves nursing and my milk. I cherish the idea that both of my children have benefited so greatly from the nourishment and nurturing they have received from breastfeeding. This truly is a gift that has enhanced all our lives.

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