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Bonding as a Family

Debbie Early
From New Beginnings, Vol. 25 No. 5, 2008, p. 13

When I became pregnant, I didn't know much about breastfeeding or caring for an infant, even though I was involved in medical research and had spent some time working as a laboratory researcher in an obstetrics department. While my own mother had breastfed me, she now lived miles away in South Africa.

When I was three months pregnant, I saw an ad in a local paper for a breastfeeding group. I decided to attend their next meeting so I could learn more. The meeting was a La Leche League meeting, and there I met the Leaders, Judy and Jennifer. Over the course of the next few months I attended the LLL meetings. Each meeting covered a different topic and over the course of several months I listened to some topics twice, each time learning new things. I learned practical skills and began to feel more confident, too, not only through increased knowledge but because Judy was approachable and lived locally. Most other breastfeeding support was far away.

When Patrick George O'Rourke was born, the labor lasted about 14 hours and I received no medication. I had read that medications could, in certain circumstances, reduce the ease with which the baby latches on. Immediately after he was born, Patrick was brought to my breast and started to nurse. Within another 14 hours we were home. We were thrilled!

Soon after arriving home, I contacted Judy to tell her our good news. It was also probably my way of saying I might need her help again soon. I did. A couple of days later, I started to feel engorged. Judy explained that it was important to get the milk out and to keep my baby nursing. Later at two in the morning, my husband and I sat anxiously reading the hand pump manual. My breasts, the size of footballs, were hot and red and I was very uncomfortable. I'd been given the pump by a friend, and hadn't thought to read the instructions beforehand. I thought the pump was something I would only use in the future, in about three months time. With a combination of frequent feeds, firm hand massage, use of the pump, cold compresses, and Judy's support, I managed to relieve the engorgement and avoid mastitis.

Using the pump made my nipples cracked, red, and sore. (Note: When using a breast pump it is important to have the right size of flange and to pump gently. Seek help from an LLL Leader or lactation consultant because incorrect use of a pump can cause sore nipples.) Fortunately, at one of the early LLL meetings I had heard mothers talk about using ultra-purified lanolin to help with this and I avoided any serious cracks and subsequent infections.

When my mother visited me soon after Patrick's birth, she attended an LLL meeting with me. She remarked how great it was that such support groups exist. She apparently had no such support when she nursed me in the 1970s in South Africa.

I am glad that I was given the opportunity and support to nurse my son past the recommended 12 months; however, it was not all easy, and I can see why some people give up. There were periods of frustration at having a child so dependent upon me, especially in the early days of frequent nursing, and at learning how to nurse discreetly in public, for instance, on an airplane. I didn't realize I would have to wear nursing pads for as long as I did, or that Patrick's neck alignment in the womb would influence how he lay down best to nurse. He nursed better on one side and this also led to temporary engorgement and nipple soreness. Finally, I found that several months after I stopped nursing, I still occasionally leaked milk. Apparently, this is not uncommon, but it was something I hadn't heard or read about before.

Throughout my nursing experience I was lucky to have the support of my husband, Liam O'Rourke. Fortunately, he and I bonded closely with Patrick through breastfeeding. We did not believe, as some do, that nursing means the father gets to sleep through the night. During night wakings my role was to nurse Patrick and Liam's role was to burp him. Together we shared the responsibility of caring for our new son and enjoyed being close to him so frequently.

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