Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Summer Dun, Sherwood, Arkansas, USA
A pumping story
In January, 2014, we welcomed our third child into our family, our sweet baby, Rose. She had a rocky start. I am rhesus negative and was carrying antibodies to the rhesus factor. Rose was in the NICU for three days after she was born and then readmitted a few days later for further phototherapy to clear her jaundice. While she was under the lights, I pumped my milk. We were sent home with formula, but after consulting with my LLL Leader, I decided that breastfeeding Rose exclusively would help boost my supply. Thankfully, she thrived and exclusively breastfed for the first six months.
One day, when Rose was 13 months old, I breastfed her and laid her down in the crib for a nap. Little did I know that would be the last time I ever nursed her. Less than an hour later, we had a house fire in which my baby was seriously injured. She received third degree burns on 49% of her body—the whole front of her body. She was taken to the local hospital and then airlifted to Arkansas Children’s Hospital burns unit.
We didn’t know if she would survive. She was taken first into pediatric intensive care and placed on a respirator, was given a feeding tube, and multiple medications. Within the first few hours of reaching the hospital, I asked for a place to pump. I was given everything I needed and shown to a pumping room, just steps from Rose’s room.
Pumping my milk
Over the next few days, Rose started throwing up the formula milk they were giving her. They told me that nutrition was one of the key components in healing a person who has suffered large burns. I reminded them that I was pumping breast milk for Rose and they started giving her my milk in her feeding tube. Rose’s digestive system finally started working again and she stopped throwing up.
They warned us from the beginning that it is common for burn victims to lose fingers or toes, or even arms or legs, because of loss of circulation and infection. Rose did not suffer an infection. There is no proof, but I do think my milk may have had something to do with protecting her.
During those first six weeks, Rose fought for her life and I could not hold or touch her, because the risk of infection was too great. All I could do was talk and sing to her, and pump my milk for her. Providing my milk for her gave me purpose during those extremely difficult weeks.
When Rose was moved to the burns unit, there were no pumping rooms nearby. I had to walk down long halls and take the elevator all the way to the NICU to pump. When the lactation consultants realized what I was doing, they graciously provided me with my very own pump to keep with me in Rose’s room for the next 14 weeks of her hospital stay. The lactation consultants were great and very encouraging. I received free meals along with extras (like yogurt) because I was pumping.
I found an online group of exclusively pumping mothers who helped me through all my problems of discomfort, low supply, and with decisions on frequency and duration of pumping. The group included some pumping ”professionals,” who got me through some particularly long nights.
When we finally brought Rose home, after 20 weeks in the hospital, my husband and I had to take over her total care, which included tracheostomy care [a tracheostomy is used to bypass an airway that has become blocked as a result of, in this case, a burn injury]. There was a feeding tube, and over a dozen medications, lotions, and creams. She also had two hours of occupational therapy five days a week. I didn’t have as much time for pumping and my supply was running low. I wanted desperately to breastfeed Rose. I would pump and then try to latch her on, but she would push away and cry. I didn’t want to cause her more discomfort.
I was so upset that my milk was drying up. I called my LLL Leader, Mona Lee Garner (who is also my former piano teacher), and she assured me that I had done really well, helped me feel better, and find counseling. I stopped pumping when Rose was 19 months old. Within a few weeks, she came off the feeding tube. About a month later, her tracheostomy was removed.
It has been over a year and a half since Rose’s injury. She has kept her spirits up and has learned how to walk again. At two-and-a-half years old, she is now learning to sing the alphabet and has started using a potty. She still has physical and occupational therapy three days a week and she will need scar management surgeries as she grows, and possibly throughout her life. I am beyond proud of her and everything she has accomplished.
I am so thankful that I was able to provide my milk for Rose during her hospital stay. I am so grateful to all the hospital personnel who made this possible, all my friends in my online support group, my sisters who sat with me through countless pumping sessions, and my LLL Leader who helped me gently to put pumping behind me.