Breastfeeding triumphant

I’ve been working the past two nights, and absolutely loving it, actually. I’ve been on Postpartum, and have just had a lovely crop of women to take care of. Sadly, at my hospital, most women tend to keep their babies in the nursery all night, despite my best efforts to encourage rooming-in. And sadly, breastfeeding is not necessarily the standard, either; there are always a lot of women who choose to bottle feed, for so many different reasons, and while I am always very respectful of their decision, I always feel a bit sad about it. However, the past two nights, I have been very lucky—almost every one of my 8 patients was breastfeeding, or attempting to breastfeed, or else very eager to breastfeed, and desperately wanting to start just as soon as their baby gets out of the NICU. It was heavenly, and so much fun, although incredibly time consuming. There was also one room in particular where both women had chosen to room-in with their babies, and both were breastfeeding, and both had broken down the barrier of curtains that shields them from each other, and were actually talking (which is so rare! Often in semi-private rooms, the two women never seem to have contact with each other; they keep the curtains shut the entire time, and politely ignore each other.) There was such a lovely energy in that room. Both women were so excited about their babies, and about breastfeeding. I must admit—this quickly became my favorite room.

One of the women in this room had had absolutely no problem breastfeeding her baby during my first night of work: both of them were learning so well, the baby was latching beautifully, and I got to spend a lot of time with them, teaching the mother how to latch and unlatch her baby, teaching her that yes, her baby really can breathe okay, even when her face is pressed all the way against the breast, teaching her how to prevent sore nipples, and how to recognize that her baby is getting enough, and how and when to start switching breasts, and what to expect once her milk comes in, and the safety-pin trick, and all of the gazillion things I love to teach and explain about breastfeeding. And they were doing great! The mother was loving it, and the baby was looking incredibly content, and I thought all was well.

Then, when I returned the following night to take care of them again, I learned that the baby had slept all day long, and hadn’t eaten at all for the past 15 hours (even though she had had several wet diapers, which is always a good sign). I reassured the mother that the first few days of life are sort of erratic in terms of sleeping and eating, and that eventually she and her daughter would fall into a routine, but as the night dragged on, the baby became fussier and fussier, and we were unable to get her to latch despite our best efforts, and despite the baby’s apparent hunger. Every time we put the baby to the breast, she would become absolutely hysterical, and then it would take several rounds of rocking and patting and sometimes walking with her to calm her down enough to try again. I couldn’t figure out what had happened! The night before, they could have been the poster couple for La Leche League, and then, one night later, it was a completely different story. The baby was hungry, and latching well enough, but every time she latched, she would just hang on the breast, refusing to suck, or else suck once or twice, and then grow hysterical again. I kept reassuring the mother, who was rapidly losing her confidence and her sanity, and we kept trying. I would leave the room to take care of my other patients, and come back to find the mother still awake and the baby still screaming.

Finally, finally, around 5:00 am, at our wits end, I suggested we try the side lying position, since we’d tried everything else and none of it had worked, and boom! I don’t know what it was about that position, especially when the other positions had been working just fine the night before, but all of a sudden, everything clicked again. The baby latched right away, calmed down immediately, nursed for at least 35 minutes, and then fell straight asleep. The mother got crampy from the nursing (which is also always a good sign that the latch is good, and that the baby is sucking well), I gave her some Motrin, and then she fell asleep too. They were absolutely adoreable sleeping together in the same bed after being up all night together. I pulled the curtains around them and shut the door and made sure that no one disturbed them.

And I know she’s not my baby, and this woman, prior to working with her for the past two nights, is a complete and total stranger to me, so you might say why do I even care so much? But I can’t even begin to tell you how happy and relieved I was that everything is going so well for this pair, and that the baby finally had such a good feeding, and that the mother didn’t end up losing her faith in herself, and in her body’s ability to feed her baby. The immense sense of satisfaction I felt as I left work this morning was indescribeable. It’s so nice to have such lovely patients, and to do work that you believe in so passionately (such as helping women breastfeed). I’m so lucky to love my job (well, love certain aspects of it, anyway), and to be able to feel like I’m making such a difference in people’s lives. Yes, I am on a breastfeeding high. Today, life is good.

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