My second child, Ben, was diagnosed with a heart defect at our 20 week ultrasound. We were told that he would need heart surgery shortly after birth in order to survive. The weeks leading up to Ben’s birth were very stressful to say the least. I felt as though so much was out of my control. The one thing that I felt I could do was to prepare myself to breast feed him. I knew that breast milk was the best thing to help give him strength and recover from his surgery. I studied up and made a thorough plan so that I knew how to establish my milk supply, express milk for him and be ready when he was ready to feed from the breast.
When Ben was born he let out a mighty cry! I was so relieved. He was alive and strong. Shortly after he was born they took him to the children’s hospital. The first thing that went through my mind was that I needed to express. I only got a few drops but I knew this was normal. I just needed to follow my plan, which was to express every two to three hours with an electric pump.
I soon realized that my “plan” was going to be very difficult to follow, as the hours seemed to pass like minutes and days melded into one another. I was very sleep deprived before Ben was born, but after I wasn’t able to sleep much at all. Between recovering from birth, visiting Ben, and spending time with my two-year –old daughter, I expressed as often as I could. Each time I expressed both breasts for at least 20 minutes with an electric pump, and the most I ever got was 100ml. Usually I got between 10-20 ml. The nurses encouraged me that every drop counts, but he still needed to be topped up with formula. I was devastated. Here was the one thing that I thought I could do for my son and it wasn’t working. Fortunately I had the support of a good friend and breastfeeding counsellor to trouble shoot with me and encourage me to keep going.
Finally, after two weeks, they told me I could “room in” with Ben overnight. He was still hooked up to a lot of wires ad tubes, but we were together and that was all that mattered. That night was magical. He latched beautifully. After expressing profusely and getting just drops, my milk flowed. I held him all night long as we soaked up the warmth of each other’s bodies. He didn’t cry once that night. I didn’t sleep much but I didn’t care. That night made all the effort I had made well worth it. It was just me and him. We were together, and that is what my body needed to make milk.
The months that followed were hard; but that magical night gave me the confidence I needed to bring Ben home and to nurse him back to health. Now Ben is a healthy and comical three-year-old. I have no doubt that breastfeeding contributed to making him the healthy boy he is today, but what I am most grateful for is that it helped us to catch up on lost time and to establish a bond which still remains today.
Sara Fitzgerald is a Canberra mum of three