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A Challenging First Month

Heather Stevens
Defiance, Ohio, USA
From New Beginnings, Vol. 31 No. 2, 2010, p. 8

I was lucky enough -- if you can call it luck -- to be informed in advance of my second son's birth that we would be off to a rough start. We found out at 19 weeks gestation that he would be born with an omphalocele (a birth defect in which the infant's intestine or other abdominal organs stick out of the belly button). The defect was small and could potentially be repaired in one surgery. We scheduled a cesarean section so there would be little to no damage done to the organ at birth. I was extremely nervous to have this surgery as I had had an easy vaginal birth with my first son.

When my beautiful son, Bennett, was born his doctor said that the defect was much smaller than anticipated, only a few loops of his bowel, and it could be repaired a few days later. He would not be allowed to eat before his surgery and he was strictly on IV fluids. I was fortunate enough to have nursed my first son for 20 months, when he self-weaned. So I was educated about breastfeeding and was determined to be successful nursing Ben. Right after my baby was born, it was hard not having that initial bonding that breastfeeding provides. Each time I visited him in the NICU the two days before his surgery, he would root towards my breast. That gave me hope that he would be able to breastfeed without much problem.

I was pumping around the clock, but my milk had not come in by the time he was "allowed" to breastfeed, which was the evening after his surgery. He needed to eat to stimulate a bowel movement, which would determine if the surgery had been a success. I gave the nurses what little milk I was able to pump, but this was supplemented with formula, as much as it broke my heart. I knew it was important that Bennett learned to breastfeed, gain weight, and have an adequate number of wet and dirty diapers. I offered the breast at every feeding while I was in the NICU (I was there for eight to ten hours a day), but he just wasn't getting the hang of it. After five days, I was discharged, but my baby wasn't. That was one of the hardest days of my life.

I was fortunate enough to be able to stay nearby, since my own home was over an hour away. That day, my milk finally came in. Right before I left the hospital, Bennett latched on! I cried. He had a perfect latch and was nursing as though he had been doing it the whole time. He did so well.

He was in the hospital another three days, taking bottles, but nursing well when I was with him. When he was discharged from the NICU, it was recommended that I continue supplementing, whether it was pumped milk or formula -- though he had not had formula once since my milk had come in. I had faith that he was gaining well as he was having plenty of wet and dirty diapers.

Once we got home I was determined to nurse him exclusively. He must have known that he was home and in good hands because he took to nursing every two hours right away and needed no further supplemental bottles. We have had a great nursing relationship ever since. I feel so blessed to have a healthy, beautiful baby and to be able to breastfeed him is a dream come true. I'm so grateful to my family and my husband who were by my side, encouraging me the whole time.

I am especially grateful to my La Leche League family, the mothers whom I call my friends and whom I met on the LLL mother-to-mother forums. (Log on and visit http://forums.llli.org) They talked me through all of my problems and anxiety during our NICU stay. I've been a member of the LLL forums for two and a half years, and I’m thankful every day for those women, without them it's likely I would not have continued breastfeeding.

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