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Unexpected Catalyst

Yvonne Howard MacKay
Laramie WY USA
From New Beginnings, Vol. 25 No. 5, 2008, pp. 20-21

As one of eight children, I saw my mother breastfeed my younger siblings while reading us our bedtime stories. The contented sounds made by the nurslings were the sweetest I had ever heard. This background led me to believe that breastfeeding was easy.

When my husband, Rob, and I learned of our second pregnancy, we were cautiously optimistic. Our first child had died at birth. I assumed that I would breastfeed this baby, but tried not to think about it. I had to be sure that our baby would live before I could envision how life might look after his birth.

While this reaction was understandable, it did not serve me well. When our second baby, Xander, was born, I had little information on breastfeeding. As a result, I was unprepared for the challenges that breastfeeding presented. I knew from experience with my first baby that it could be painful when one's milk comes in. But I assumed that having a baby to relieve engorgement would help. What I did not anticipate was how sore my nipples would become.

I had a cesarean with Xander, and nursing got off to a rough start. Although recovering from major surgery was not easy, recovering from the initiation of breastfeeding was immeasurably more difficult.

Even before I left the hospital, my nipples were cracked and bleeding. I cried before every feeding, with every latch-on, and during every feeding. The hospital provided only rudimentary instruction in breastfeeding. The staff seemed unconcerned about my discomfort since Xander was thriving. I thought, "I am glad that my baby is doing well, but what about me?"

On the way home from the hospital, Rob and I stopped at my mother's house as Xander needed to eat, and we were still an hour away from home. In my mother's bedroom -- the same room where I had listened to bedtime stories and to the gentle noises of the nurslings -- I took my shirt and bra off and guided Xander's mouth to my breast. The pain was so great that I had to pace while feeding him.

My mom joined me as I nursed. "What's wrong?" she asked. As I explained, I noticed that my mom had tears in her eyes. I never knew for sure that my mother empathized with me, and I was touched by her compassion and obvious concern. "Oh my!" my mother gasped when she saw my nipples. "I've seen damaged nipples, but I've never seen any this bad." My mother massaged my breasts with moist heat as Xander nursed, and, for the first time in the four days since my baby was born, my breasts were not as hard as rocks. In this moment, I saw how deeply my mother loved me. I understood that while she had a difficult time expressing her love, it did not make her love less real.

The engorgement subsided during this feeding, and I felt encouraged as Rob and I drove the remaining distance home. However, upon arriving home it did not take long for things to go downhill. I cried at the mere thought of feeding my baby. Rob contacted a La Leche League Leader, Annette, who lives in our rural town.

Annette spent several hours with me over the next few days. She reassured me that in a week this would all be a distant memory. She showed me how to slide Xander from the cross-cradle hold on the left breast to the football hold on the right, so that he would be willing to take the right breast. As that nipple healed, and as my son and I became more experienced, I began to nurse him in the cross-cradle hold on the right side. Gradually, things began to improve.

The two main reasons for my difficulties did not become apparent until later. First, I had IV antibiotics after the cesarean. These led to a yeast infection, which in turn gave Xander (and me) thrush.

The second reason was that Xander had torticollis, which was diagnosed at his two-month check-up. The muscles on the right side of Xander's neck were tight, and the weight of his head pulling on those muscles while nursing on my right breast was uncomfortable, probably even painful, for him. Xander always seemed to regard my right breast as though it were his nemesis. My right nipple was the more injured nipple because the torticollis affected the way he latched on to this breast. Had Annette not persisted with me in teaching my son to latch on in the football hold, I would have given up on this breast, and my son would not have had the benefit of having unintentional physical therapy during almost every feeding.

After about four months, breastfeeding became enjoyable. This was instrumental in my decision to quit my job. I had worked so hard to be able to breastfeed my baby in the first place that I did not want to use a bottle.

Two days before what was to have been my last day of work, Rob lost his job. I was able to salvage half of my job, and Rob brings Xander to my office for feedings. This is not what we had planned but I am able to feed Xander directly at my breast, and Rob is able to spend time with our son. Rob had been working so many hours that I had feared he was missing out! I am grateful to be able to nurse Xander for all his nourishment needs.

I knew of the nutritional benefits of breastfeeding, and I knew that breastfeeding would help to deepen the emotional bond between Xander and me. However, I am convinced that there were two unexpected benefits from breastfeeding: breastfeeding was a catalyst for healing both my son's torticollis and my relationship with my mother.

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