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Breastfeeding after Surgery

Heidi Mischke
St. Paul MN USA
From: NEW BEGINNINGS, Vol. 20 No. 6, November-December 2003, pp. 213

When my son, Joe, was born with an undescended testicle, my husband Dale, and I knew there was a chance he would need surgery to correct the problem. Joe's pediatrician told us that if the testicle did not descend by the time Joe was a year old, she would refer us to a urologist for a surgical consultation. I wanted to help Joe avoid surgery, so I researched other treatments and discovered that chiropractic treatment and acupuncture had worked in getting testicles to descend.

I was fortunate to find two health care providers in our area with expertise in treating this condition, so Joe had several acupuncture and chiropractic treatments. The problem was that Joe was eight months old already, making him a few months older than other boys who had been successfully treated in this way. Over the next four months, Joe's testicle made several appearances, but it never fully descended.

With great trepidation, I took Joe to a urologist shortly after his first birthday. The urologist strongly advised surgery for Joe, and after more research, Dale and I agreed to it. We scheduled the procedure for April 3, when Joe was just over 14 months old.

On the morning of surgery, I awoke Joe at 5:30 am so that he could breastfeed before the surgery. Interestingly, according to the guidelines given to me by the surgeon, Joe could be fed human milk as little as four hours before surgery, but formula was forbidden for six hours before surgery. Clear liquids were allowed up to three hours before surgery.

Dale and I had attended a pre-operation class to prepare for the surgery. As a physical therapist, I have seen many patients before and after a surgical procedure, but it was different when it was my baby who was being subjected to anesthesia, multiple medications, and intubation. I was very aware of the risks involved.

We were able to be with Joe when he was anesthetized. It broke our hearts to watch him struggle under the gas mask and see his tiny body go limp. We would not be able to see him again for about an hour and a half, when he was released from the recovery room. Before the hospital would release Joe, he would have to drink some fluids, show stable vital signs, and have a wet diaper. I asked one of the nurses if I would be able to breastfeed Joe in the post-recovery room. Her response was, "We can't stop you breastfeeding mothers!" I'm not sure if she was being supportive or not, but it didn't matter because I knew that by breastfeeding not only would I be comforting my son after major trauma, I would be giving him the most nutritious and easily digestible food for his healing body.

Following Joe's surgery, the surgeon came out to tell us that it had gone well with no complications. That was certainly a relief for us, but we were anxious to have Joe back in our arms. Finally, we were called to the post-recovery room. A nurse brought Joe in. I wasn't prepared for how he would look. His face was puffy, he was very pale and he had an IV in one of his arms. It brought tears to my eyes to see him in such a helpless state. The nurse handed him to me, and I held him close and helped him latch onto my breast. He breastfed without a problem, then rested quietly in my arms.

Joe's condition quickly improved and he soon met all of the discharge criteria. While waiting for him to be discharged, we saw other children who had undergone surgery leaving with their parents. Nurses were giving them basins to take along in case their children got sick. Unfortunately, some of the children didn't even make it to the door before vomiting. Joe never became sick, and I attribute that to his easily digestible diet.

When we got Joe home, he slept most of the day. He ate a couple of crackers, but mostly just breastfed. That did not concern my husband or me, because we knew he was getting great nutrition from my milk. The next morning when Joe awoke, he was alert and active. It was hard to believe that he had had surgery only the day before.

I am so grateful that I was able to breastfeed my son, not just as a newborn, but as a one-year-old, when the benefits were different but still extremely important.

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