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Nursing Julia: My Supreme Challenge

Darillyn Starr
Mantua UT USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 10 No. 5, September-October 1993, pp. 135-136

We provide articles from our publications from previous years for reference for our Leaders and members. Readers are cautioned to remember that research and medical information change over time.

Thanksgiving of 1991 was a special day for our family. Not only were we thankful for all our many blessings and for being able to share the day with family members we have not seen much of in recent years, but it was also our daughter Julia's first birthday. A birthday is always a joyous occasion, but more so because Julia was born with a birth defect that is often fatal. There was, however, one more reason to celebrate that day. Julia had become a nursing baby only the day before. It was the culmination of more than five months of effort.

My husband, Stephen, and I adopted all four of our children, and I nursed them all at least for a while. They had not gotten much milk but had received the other benefits nursing provides.

When we adopted Julia, she was six months old, weighed nine pounds, and was being fed largely through a tube that was inserted into her stomach through an incision in her side. She had been in the hospital most of her life. Emotionally, she was in no better shape than her thin, pale little body was. Her bottle feedings at the time consisted of my holding her, upright and facing away from me, which was the only position she would allow, while she gulped down about an ounce and a half of a vile tasting formula. She would then spit the nipple out and attempts to put it back into her mouth usually caused her to gag and vomit. She did not take a pacifier or suck her thumb. She had no idea that sucking was supposed to be pleasurable or comforting. My first attempts at nursing her were disastrous and very upsetting for both of us. I ended up putting nursing on hold for a time while I tried to teach her to take comfort in sucking, get her eating well, and get her attached to me. Once the tube was gone and she was fattened up and doing better emotionally, I went back to trying to get her nursing. However, my efforts to put her to the breast with a nursing supplementer were still not successful.

I then talked to a lactation consultant who told me she wasn't even sure that it was possible to get a baby that old to start nursing. I decided that I better give up on it and learn to be happy with the progress we had made and make the most of bottle feeding. I couldn't do it though! I just could not stop thinking that there must be some way to teach her to nurse. At that point, I was not even thinking about the milk. I wanted to be able to make up for the months that she had been mostly unloved and uncomforted and to rid her of the effects of that, which were much less evident than they had been, but still there. I wanted the same close, loving, and comforting nursing relationship for her that I had with her two-and-a-half-year-old brother, Thomas.

Finally, one day I decided to call Jimmie Avery at LactAid and see what she had to say. She told me of some babies who had learned to nurse when they were even older than the ten months that Julia was at the time. She told me to try whatever I could think of, no matter how unconventional it might sound. I was very thankful for the support and decided to make one last, all-out attempt. I decided to take into account every aspect of the experience of her bottle feedings, including what she saw, felt, tasted, smelled, and heard. I then set out to gradually change that to the experience of breastfeeding. I knew that it had to be done without upsetting her, which would defeat the purpose.

It was a long, slow process, filled with trial and error and requiring much patience and creativity. I learned to be happy when we made the slightest amount of progress and forced myself not to worry about the amount of time it was taking. I made use of many different breastfeeding aids and other infant feeding paraphernalia including different bottle nipples, nursing supplementers, and nipple shields. The thing that made the most progress was when I took one of the wide-base rubber nipples that she was used to, threaded the feeding tube of a supplementer through a large needle, and pulled it just barely through the hole in the nipple, so that, when she sucked on that nipple, she would get the milk from the supplementer. With that, I was able to hold her tummy to tummy, with my shirt lifted up and the rubber nipple placed directly over mine. At that point, she was accustomed to the closeness, sights, and sounds of breastfeeding. Getting her used to the taste and feel of my nipple was all that was left. A rubber nipple shield helped us with that. After that, my efforts became well worth it, as she willingly became a happily nursing baby.

I would not have used a nipple shield with any of my boys, who were four days, four weeks, and two weeks old when we adopted them. But, in Julia's case, what "should have" worked didn't, and so I progressed to other things, including some that maybe "shouldn't have" worked but did.

Currently, Julia is twenty months old. She is not a frequent nurser, but enjoys nursing two or three times a day. We are still using the supplementer, but she is getting some breast milk, too, at least enough to cure the chronic constipation she had before we started. She is in the normal range for her age in both size and development. She is happy, inquisitive, and intelligent and is a joy to us. I feel that the nursing relationship we have had has in effect "put the icing on the cake" in enabling her to make it to this point.

I hope that my experience might help other mothers to see that breastfeeding is much more than milk, and that they can succeed at nursing their babies, even in circumstances that are far from ideal. I also hope it might help them see that nursing a baby is a privilege worth whatever effort it takes and more.

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