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New Frontiers of Nursing

By Michelle Swanson
Cheyenne WY USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 19 No. 6, November-December 2002, pp. 208

The first time my dad held his first grandson and namesake in his arms was a beautiful, emotional, and sad day. My son was already eight weeks old, and we were visiting my father in the prison visitation room. I was allowed to bring with me one bottle of formula or breast milk. Since my son only drank about three ounces at a time, I only had four ounces of breast milk prepared. Of course, using a bottle was a novelty for Stephen so after he guzzled the four ounces, he was ready for more. I was uncomfortable, scared, and a breastfeeding novice, so I took Stephen to the bathroom and nursed him on a toilet seat that didn't even have a lid. It was a horrible and humiliating experience, and every time a toilet flushed Stephen would pull off and look around, causing us both to be sticky with milk. I vowed to myself that on our next visit I would be brave enough to tell one of the prison guards that I would be taking a chair into the restroom instead of sitting on the toilet.

Our second visit was not any more of a success than our first one. I pumped more milk and tried to feed Stephen before we arrived at visitation, but he was already six months old and too busy being curious and interested in his surroundings to nurse. Once inside though, he took the bottle from my dad and the two of them enjoyed each other's company immensely. About halfway through the visit my breasts became increasingly sore and engorged and I began to leak and soak through my breast pads. I took Stephen to the restroom and tried to nurse him on the same toilet because I was too intimidated to ask the guards for a chair, but he was not interested in nursing after all. I gave Stephen to my parents so they could entertain each other and returned to the bathroom, where I sat for 20 minutes and hand expressed milk from my swollen breasts.

I left the prison feeling embarrassed. I knew that I shouldn't have such difficulty nursing my son anywhere, but what were my rights in this situation and where could I go for support and encouragement? To my local La Leche League Leader, of course!

I searched the Internet until I found the email address of my local Leader and went to my first meeting that following week. It was wonderful! Armed with a new sense of support and knowledge, I prepared for my next visit to the prison by first emailing the warden. I explained to him my situation and concerns and how my son, now almost 10 months old, was exclusively breastfed and would have nothing to do with a bottle. The warden forwarded my concerns to the officer in charge of visitation, who said that he would be happy to place a chair in the restroom for my privacy. A few months earlier I would have agreed to this with a smile on my face, but because of my new sense of self-respect, I knew that this was an improper location to nurse my child. I replied to his email and explained that nursing in a restroom was as inappropriate as an adult eating his lunch in a restroom, and that I would be open to any other location besides the bathroom.

As Stephen and I arrived at the prison for our visit, I was both anxious and excited. I talked to a guard upon arrival and was told that all of the guards had been briefed on my situation and when it was time to nurse my son, they would unlock the main door and allow me to nurse in the unsecured outer waiting room. I was both surprised and relieved. There was no arguing or hassling on the part of the guards, and there was no shame or apology on my part. When it came time to nurse, everything went just as planned. Stephen got his fill and wasn't interrupted by the flushing of toilets and I gave myself a pat on the back for my courage and persistence. Of course, I couldn't have done it and wouldn't have even tried it if it weren't for the support of La Leche League!

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