Breastfeeding as a Quadriplegic

When my first son was born, I was filled with optimism about breastfeeding. I had read plenty of books and knew this was something I wanted to do for my child. Soon after his delivery I attempted to breastfeed.   

With the help of lactose specialist, I pulled my son close to me. Nothing happened. I tried again, this time guiding his head with one hand and my breast with the other. Another failed attempt. The nurse reassured me that breastfeeding is something that can be a challenge and together we would keep trying.   

I was most concerned with my son getting the colostrum; the liquid gold, superfood that is loaded with antibodies to support a newborn's immune system. My colostrum came in on day two. But my son had not learned how to latch. The lactation specialist came up with a solution. We took a clean spoon and expelled the colostrum by hand and filled the spoon. Then we gave the liquid gold to my son. It was satisfying knowing that I was providing my newborn with rich nourishment.   

Every two hours I tried breastfeeding. Some attempts were slightly successful, but most were full of frustration and disappointment. I couldn’t get comfortable, I could not balance my baby and myself. And he wouldn’t latch! I continued to expel the colostrum and feeding it to my son with a spoon.   

My son was four weeks premature and he was a small baby. His inability to latch in the first few days made it clear that I would need the aid of a breast pump. I soon discovered the pump would be incredibly important for achieving my breastfeeding goals.   

Pumping is not glamorous, but there were days where my pump saved me from completely giving up on nursing. The pump also gave me a visual of how much milk I was producing.  

Some moms and babes naturally pick up breastfeeding. I was not that fortunate. My challenges included low milk supply (possibly caused by lower sensation in the breast; from my spinal cord injury), sore nipples (from poor latching) and sleep deprivation. I soon discovered that if breastfeeding was going to be successful I needed support from others.  

My day was consumed by the care of my newborn. I needed support in having nutritional meals and plenty of water provided to me; there was absolutely no time for me to prepare meals for myself. The task of keeping me well fed and hydrated was delegated to my husband. Hydration and nutrition was critical in keeping my milk supply.   

Between nursing my son every two hours and pumping to keep up my supply, I felt more like a cow than a mom. Breastfeeding felt all consuming at times. But once my son finally got the hang of latching on, I learned to watch the pace of my son’s jaw as he suckled and listen for his gulps to tell if he was getting enough milk. In those moments, it was magical. 

My breastfeeding tips:  

  • I purchased several Boppy Pillows”. This clever tool helped to get my baby up to a height that made it easier for me to breastfeed without worrying about balancing with limited abdominal strength. 
  • I invested in a high quality electric breast pump. Before you leave the hospital work with lactose specialists and you may have an insurance plan that will cover the cost.  

Steps I used to express colostrum by hand: (Remember to work with your lactose specialist to figure out what works best for you.) 

  • Wash your hands and get comfortable. 
  • Have a clean cup or spoon ready to catch the colostrum. 
  • Gently massage your breast in a circular motion, working from shoulder to nipple. This will aid in the letdown of colostrum. 
  • Put your hand in a C shape on your breast. Gently rub your thumb from the top of your breast towards you nipple. This will release the colostrum. 
  • Catch with spoon and feed baby. Repeat. 
  • For me switching breast and hand expressing every two hours helped me stimulate my milk.  

Breastfeeding is an experience unique to each mother and child. Some moms nurse with ease, have difficulty, or fall somewhere in between. Do not stress. Do not let feelings of failure or doubt overtake the joy of feeding your baby. Whether you breastfeed or you bottle feed, you will bond, you will nourish, and you will provide. It will be the most beautiful thing you ever accomplish.  


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