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Success Second Time Around

Elsie's story:

I wanted very badly to breastfeed my first child, Thomas. I read books, prepared myself and felt fully confident that I was going to be able to do so, but Thomas had other plans. He was born with practically no sucking reflex. You know how when you put your finger into a newborn's mouth, they begin sucking on it hungrily? Thomas never did that. As a result he had great difficulty breastfeeding from the moment I tried to put him to the breast. The nurses and lactation consultants in the hospital tried to help us. I remember so clearly how he sweated, cried and arched back in his desperate attempts to get milk. Instead of sucking, he literally chewed the milk out of me and left my nipples bleeding and deeply fissured in a matter of days.

Thomas and I saw many lactation consultants during his first weeks. We were finally referred to Tim Healey, a wonderful physical therapist whose specialty was newborns and their sucking patterns. We saw him when Thomas was about 6 weeks old and it only took one session with him for me to realize that I needed to give up on my desire to breastfeed Thomas and switch to bottles. That was not a magic cure and because of a host of problems caused by his neurological immaturity, Thomas continued to have trouble feeding for months. But now, three and a half years later, it is impossible for me to look at my healthy preschooler and feel like I somehow failed. It was the best decision I ever could have made for Thomas. But my desire to breastfeed did not diminish and I knew that I would try again.

When I was about 6 months pregnant with Rose, my second child, I started having nightmares about breastfeeding. I dreamed that Rose had long, sharp teeth and she was chewing on me and biting me while I breastfed her. It was impossible for me to imagine breastfeeding without associating it with excruciating pain and I started to get very nervous. I had been told repeatedly that the problems that Thomas had would not necessarily happen again with other children. While I understood that consciously, my subconscious was obviously working overtime. After all the only experience I had with breastfeeding was a painful one. I did what I had done the first time. I got out my books about breastfeeding, started hanging out on the breastfeeding forum at StorkNet and read all the articles in the breastfeeding cubby. If nothing else-I would be prepared.

Rose arrived on May 20, 2002. I had a c-section, but was fortunate to be in a hospital that allowed mothers and newborns to be together in recovery after surgery. Rose came out screaming and screamed for a good 45 minutes until I was finally able to get her to the breast. And then-she quieted down! Unlike her big brother, she seemed to know exactly what to do and I was amazed as I watched her.

Our breastfeeding relationship has not been without hurdles. Rose ran an unexplained fever shortly after birth. As a result she spent about two and a half days in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the hospital before coming home. For about 24 hours, I pumped and she was fed by bottle. She was also given a pacifier in the NICU. Thankfully neither of these caused any confusion for Rose, though being separated from her was very hard on me.

Once we were home, I was plagued by extremely sore nipples. We battled thrush which was probably brought on by the antibiotics Rose was given while in the NICU. I had trouble with plugged ducts and a nasty case of mastitis to top things off. All of this occurred before Rose turned 4 weeks old.

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At around 5 weeks, Rose suddenly and mysteriously started refusing to nurse. I read about nursing strikes, but knew that they were extremely rare in a baby so young. After this went on for about 24 hours, I called the pediatrician. What followed was a three-day ordeal of trips to doctor's offices, clinics and the children's hospital emergency room. There were blood tests, urine tests, x-rays, an EKG and finally an upper GI before Rose was finally diagnosed with reflux. Her refusal to nurse was probably brought on by the extreme pain she was feeling because of the reflux. She quickly began to associate the pain with breastfeeding and just stopped. She was put on liquid Zantac and we saw her improve quickly.

Even now, as Rose approaches 7-months, breastfeeding is not without its inconveniences. One of my breasts continues to be problematic. The nipple is always sore and sometimes still bleeds. I am prone to plugged ducts on that side and take lecithin to help alleviate that problem. If Rose skips a feeding or sleeps through the night, that breast becomes extremely engorged and hard. But these things seem minor to me in comparison to the relationship Rose and I are enjoying and the bond I feel with her.

I am hesitant to use the word "success" when describing my breastfeeding relationship with Rose. It's true that after almost 7 months, I am successfully breastfeeding her. But I do not wish to imply that I somehow failed when I formula fed Thomas. My desire to breastfeed has been an overwhelming force in my early motherhood. It is something I feel so strongly about that I have been willing to endure extreme pain, permanent physical damage, illness and medications and the economic inconveniences of lactation consultations and a visit to a physical therapist that my insurance did not cover. Yet finally, all the desire in the world did not change one thing. Finally, it wasn't up to me. My children were the ones who decided if they would be breastfed or not.

One thing I have learned is that every child is different and a good mother is one who respects those differences and does what is best for each of her children based on their needs and abilities. While I firmly believe that breastfeeding is best in most cases, it was not best for Thomas. All of my fervent desire did not change the fact that he was incapable of breastfeeding. Rose, being the different little creature that she is, proved from the very beginning that she was going to be a "champion breastfeeder" and she and I were going to "make a great team," to quote one of the NICU nurses. She fanned the flames of my desire and made it easier for me to endure the difficulties we have had. My bond with her is different than my bond with Thomas was when he was a baby. But it is not better, just different. Of course! They are different people.

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