Friday, June 11, 2010

Nursing and Torticollis

I nursed my son Joseph for 13 months. We had a very rocky start so sometimes it’s hard to believe that we made it that far! I didn’t expect to have these challenges. I had attended a breastfeeding class in my last month of pregnancy and knew there was a learning curve. My mom, aunts, and mother-in-law were once active in LLL, so I thought I’d have plenty of support if I ran into problems.

Joseph was born full-term after a physically exhausting delivery. I wasn’t able to push him out on my own and was running out of strength at the end. The doctor recommended a c-section but I requested vacuum extraction. I knew I could do it – I just needed some help. Fifteen minutes later, Joseph was born with the suction cup stuck fast to his head. A medical team was ready in case of complications, but Joseph was strong and healthy. I was stitched up and Joseph was brought over to me. I tried to nurse him in the delivery room without success.

Over the next 2-3 days in the hospital, I tried repeatedly to nurse Joseph. Sometimes he latched on right away, sometimes after 45 minutes of trying. Most of the time Joseph flailed around in frustration, and I began to panic with each failed feeding. The post-partum nurse(s) couldn’t help much and sometimes ignored my frantic pages. The lactation consultant in the hospital was able to get Joseph nursing within a few minutes. I couldn’t reproduce her magic. She gave me a SNS (supplemental nursing system) which is lovely idea but worthless when your baby won’t latch on.

At home, we had a couple of mediocre nursing sessions but suddenly Joseph wouldn’t latch anymore. He began to scream every time I moved him toward my breast. At first I believed that I could be successful nursing through sheer strength of will. I read every nursing resource I could find and called family for advice. Joseph, however, had a mind of his own and seemed to hate nursing. It was the first of many parenting lessons that he taught me. Joseph wasn’t the baby in the book. Try, try again wasn’t working for us and only making things worse. I slowly began to learn that if nursing was going to work, it was going to happen on Joseph’s terms. I couldn’t force him to nurse! I learned that my baby is a unique individual and if something isn’t working – STOP!!! Try something different. But it’s a hard lesson to learn your first week on the job.

So I pumped for the first week, always trying stay one feeding ahead of schedule. It was tiring but far less stressful than nursing! Bottles were an easy, happy experience. The pediatrician recommended a wonderful lactation consultant. She did an in-home visit and noticed right away that something wasn’t right with Joseph’s neck and jaw. It was asymmetric and difficult to get lined up properly with my breast. She gave me a nipple shield to make it easier for Joseph to latch. Partly because of the lactation consultant’s observations, my son was diagnosed with torticollis (twisted neck) at 2.5 weeks old. We began physical therapy right away. I cried a lot those first weeks, probably PPD but I was too exhausted and stubborn to give in.

I used the nipple shield exclusively for 2 weeks, and Joseph began nursing sporadically again. Joseph often nursed in contorted positions due to his damaged neck muscle but at least he was nursing. Our problems persisted and with a lot of hard work Joseph began to latch without the nipple shield. After 2-3 months, nursing became the wonderful, joyful experience that my mom and aunts told me about.

Not surprisingly, our nursing relationship ended on Joseph’s terms. I had been gradually cutting down feedings when he was 12 months old, and a few weeks later he just refused to nurse. Such a strong-willed child since the day he was born – I have no idea who he got that from! J The emotions caught me off-guard. I was ready to be done but so sad that this beautiful part of our relationship was over. I’m so glad to have had my nursing experience.

Beth N.  Mom to Joseph

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