Monday, August 1, 2011
breastfeeding a special needs baby
My first child has special needs. I can't tell you the name of a specific syndrome, because her condition is unique and is still being evaluated. What I can tell you is that our attempts to breastfeed her were challenging, difficult, frustrating, overwhelming, sad and tiring.
From the second I attempted to put Toddler B to breast- when they finally got her to breathe after being born blue- we knew something was not right. She did not have the immediate sucking reflex that most newborns have. Within hours, the nurses were demanding that she should be given a gavage feeding, which means that formula would be pumped into her stomach.
This is the point where my anxiety and stress really kicked in. Having a special needs baby had never been a part of my plan. Breastfeeding had always been a part of my plan. My whole world was turning upside down within 12 hours of birth.
Over the next few months I attempted off and on to get baby to breastfeed. It was disheartening- no matter how hard I wanted it, or how hard I tried, it wasn't happening. The baby would scream as soon as she was put near my breast. Looking back, it may have been partly due to the stress and anxiety I was feeling- I would be so tense, with my partner standing above me watching, and a squirmy little baby getting ready (in my mind) to reject me again.
Looking back again, I now know that the stress also affected my milk supply. I was trying to pump and feed her as much milk as I could, with guidance from my lactation consultant, but I could never get enough. I was pumping 9-10 times a day, barely sleeping, doing everything I could to get my baby the milk that she so desperately needed.
At one point, somewhere around three months, I did get her to latch on. I will never forget it- sitting on the couch, about to burst with excitement but trying to contain myself lest she get nervous and stop. She nursed for about 20 minutes, then picked her face up and gave me a huge milky, sleepy smile. I felt such JOY that day.
It didn't last, though. She nursed a couple more times over the next week, and then I started back at work. Perhaps the separation was too much for her, and she never took my breast again.
It's okay. It's over now. The exhaustion, stress, anxiety, frustration and bitter sadness feel like a bad dream. She got breast milk for 6 months- not as long as I wish that she could have, but enough to make me proud of the effort I gave it.
My advice for other mamas going through that hell? Try to relax, force yourself to relax. Find supports- don't hesitate one moment to call the lactation consultant at your hospital. Look online for breastfeeding blogs and blogs by other breastfeeding mothers- it's comforting to know that other women have gone or are going through the same things that you are. Make a goal- mine was three months pumping, then six months pumping. Be easy on yourself too- you are only human.
Remind yourself why you are going through all this- for your baby.